The States are the Incubators for Tobacco Legislation

    States are Incubators for Tobacco Legislation

    As we settle into the new year and start to pursue in earnest our personal goals of renewal and resolutions, state legislatures from coast to coast are beginning to do the same. While in some cases it’s only been a few months since some of them adjourned, an onslaught of new bills and resolutions have already been introduced.

    In some cases, new legislation is obviously needed to respond to public needs, pass budgets or perhaps strive to meet a new governor’s agenda. In other cases, a legislator is simply trying to raise his or her profile, perhaps pursuing a personal agenda or simply seeking political relevance among peers.

    Across the board, however, the opposition that promotes, drafts and advocates for these measures is sophisticated, dedicated and has a vast network of supporters and resources devoted to attacking the simple ability to enjoy a cigar or to run a retail establishment that sells tobacco products to discerning adults.

    2018 is no different. Hundreds of bills will be introduced in the coming weeks and months, but Indiana stands out at this stage in the new year. Sen. Liz Brown of Indiana has introduced S.B. 23, which would repeal the “smoker’s bill of rights” that prohibits employers from testing or controlling the use of tobacco, even outside of the place of employment.

    The action could allow employers to withhold health coverage, deny employment or justify dismissal for employees’ tobacco use—even on their own time, in their own home or in a local lounge. It only takes one bill being introduced in Indiana for it to become introduced in a dozen other states, even if it fails in Indianapolis.

    Sen. Brown isn’t alone in drafting anti-tobacco bills in Indiana. On the other side of the Capitol, Rep. Charlie Brown of Indiana has introduced H.B. 1381, which would remove all existing exemptions from the state’s smoking ban statute. Even if the bill has only a nominal chance of success, we have to take its very introduction seriously and be mindful of the signal such legislation sends to capitals and city halls across the nation.

    Like the advocacy for raising the minimum age for tobacco purchases from 18 to 21 in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s final ruling that deemed products beyond cigarettes and smokeless to fall under the agency’s domain, it only takes the power of suggestion for such notions to become living pieces of legislation in the world of tobacco control. One legislator reads that banning smoking in tobacco shops passed in one community, and it becomes an introduced ordinance in another.

    The other tactic being attempted throughout the nation is casting tobacco associated questions to a referendum. Oregon and St. Charles, Missouri are current battlegrounds in this regard. You see, when the opposition can’t get their way through the legislative process, they advocate “Let the People Decide!” Such measures are expensive, and difficult to defeat.

    I call it “the Bloomberg Syndrome,” named for former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has dedicated a piece of his fortune to advancing tobacco control. The anti-tobacco political playbook spreads based upon the “agenda of the year,” with attempts at demonizing certain products by use of questionable science or manipulated polling data.
    Such legislation also includes mandates on packaging that don’t differentiate between types of cigars, efforts to control the number of cigars in a package and imposition of floor stocks taxes, and increases in licensure fees. Still others seek to restrict smoking to freestanding buildings, regulate smoking in gaming facilities and create new zoning laws that restrict where tobacco retail establishments can be located—all of which place additional burdens on local law enforcement.

    As in past years, patrons need to let their voices be heard. In the case of Cigar Rights of America, we will keep a weekly posting of legislation impacting the retail, production or enjoyment of premium handmade cigars, from capital to capital. Petitions and calling campaigns will be made available, as will legislative testimony, citizens’ advocacy strategies, coalition building, and visits and communications with legislators. Other groups and organizations will be doing the same to protect interests across the spectrum.
    The theme around our message needs to be that there are indeed higher priorities. Protecting Main Street America small businesses, which are predominately family owned and, in many cases, passed down from generation to generation.

    As of this writing, already significant legislation has been introduced not only in Indiana but also New Jersey, New Mexico, Nebraska, Kentucky and Florida. When I first started in this arena I used to tell local retailers, “Politics are now in our job description.” It’s as true today as it was over a decade ago.

    Contributed by J. Glynn Loope, the executive director of Cigar Rights of America

    This story first appeared in the March/April 2018 issue of Tobacco Business magazine. Members of the tobacco industry are eligible for a complimentary subscription to our magazine. Click here for details.

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