NATIONAL REPORT — Tobacco legislation and regulation is constantly under review at the local, state and federal levels. In this monthly roundup, Convenience Store News highlights the latest proposals and approved changes happening across the United States.
Phoenix — A move to increase the legal age to buy tobacco products to 21 statewide has been shot down. House Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Jeff Weninger (R-Chandler) said he would not hear the bill because it places an unnecessary restriction on 18-year-old residents. The proposal, House Bill 2335, needs a hearing in the committee to advance.
Indianapolis — The Indiana Ways and Means Committee is reviewing legislation that would raise the state's cigarette excise tax and raise the minimum legal age to buy tobacco products to 21. Both were approved by the state Public Health Committee in early February.
If passed, Indiana HB 1578 would raise the tax on a pack of cigarettes by $1.50 to nearly $2.50, with a larger tax increase for bigger cigarettes. The bill also has language that could repeal smoker protection laws, which are state statutes that protect tobacco users from discrimination from employers or potential employers.
Topeka — The state House of Representatives and Senate has forwarded Gov. Sam Brownback's proposal to raise cigarette taxes to their chambers for debate, without formally endorsing it. The measure could come up for debate in March. Brownback's proposal would increase the state's cigarette tax by $1 a pack to $2.29.
Helena — Montana State Sen. Mary Caferro (D-40th District) proposed a bill to increase the state's tobacco tax by $1.50. If the measure passes, the increase would put the total sales tax at more than $3.20 a pack. The revenue would be used to offset cost of healthcare programs.
Also in Montana, The Senate Judiciary Committee heard a bill in early February that would add electronic cigarettes and vaping products to the list of prohibited tobacco items in the Clean Indoor Air Act.
Bloomingdale — Borough officials approved a move to raise the legal age to buy tobacco products to 21. The measure passed on first reading, with a final vote slated for March 7. The ordinance would also hike the penalty for businesses that sell to underage buyers. Under the new structure, fees for first- and second-time offenses could go up to $500 and $750, respectively, from $250 and $500. The borough also can revoke licenses.
In addition, officials voted in favor of a license and fee of $750 for businesses that sell electronic cigarettes. The final vote is also scheduled for March 7. The license would apply to any smoking device, whether electronic or other powered device, that can be used to deliver nicotine or other substances to the person inhaling from the device, including but not limited to, an e-cigarette, cigar, cigarillo or pipe, or any cartridge, refill or other component of the device or related product, including but not limited to refills such as liquids, gels, waxes and powders.
City of Trenton — Trenton joined a growing list of New Jersey towns to ban the sale of tobacco products to consumers under 21 years old. The statewide minimum legal buying age is 19. The vote came on Feb. 16, and goes into effect 20 days later. Retail outlets violating the new rule face penalties ranging from $250 to $1,000. The city's health department can also suspend the retail food establishments license of a violator for up to three days.
Trenton — A New Jersey State Assembly panel approved legislation sponsored by Assembly members Herb Conaway, Jr. (D-Burlington) and Daniel Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex) to ban the sale of flavored electronic smoking products in the state. The move is an effort to prevent the products from being targeted to young people.
A separate measure approved by the panel would also prohibit the use of coupons and promotional offers for both tobacco and vapor products.
The first bill (A-3704) would specifically prohibit the sale, the offering for sale, and the distribution of electronic smoking devices and related products that have a "characterizing flavor," meaning the device imparts a distinguishable flavor, taste, or aroma prior to or during consumption.
This bill would amend the existing law to expand the prohibition on the sale or distribution of flavored cigarettes to include flavored electronic smoking devices, cartridges, components and other related products, including liquid refills.
Anyone found in violation of the prohibition established under this bill would be liable to a civil penalty of not less than $250 for the first violation, not less than $500 for the second violation, and $1,000 for the third and each subsequent violation.
The bill would take effect immediately upon enactment.
The second measure (A-4620), sponsored by Conaway, would prohibit the use of coupons, price reductions, and price rebates in connection with the sale or offer for sale of tobacco and vapor products to consumers at retail.
A violation of this prohibition would be punishable by a civil penalty of not less than $250 for a first violation, not less than $500 for a second violation, and $1,000 for a third or subsequent violation, which would be paid into the treasury of the municipality in which the violation occurred.
Additionally, a licensed tobacco retail dealer found to have committed a violation would, following a hearing, be subject to an additional administrative penalty or suspension of the dealer's license. The license would be subject to revocation following a second violation.
This bill would take effect two months following enactment.