- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Oklahoma newspapers:

The Oklahoman, Feb. 25, 2014

Proposed tobacco tax cut disguised as e-cig regulation

In a recent meeting with The Oklahoman’s editorial board, Commissioner of Health Terry Cline said the Oklahoma Department of Health supports efforts to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to those younger than 18. But he cautioned that some legislators may try to expand those bills to weaken tobacco regulation.

“Pay attention to those amendments,” Cline said.

That very day, members of the Senate Finance Committee justified Cline’s warning. They passed Senate Bill 1892, by Sen. Rob Johnson, R-Yukon, which addresses e-cig and tobacco issues in ways that have to been seen to be believed.

Under the bill, the legal definition of “tobacco products” is amended to exclude vaping products, ensuring that e-cigs aren’t lumped into the same category as real cigarettes. That’s not particularly objectionable. But the bill also declares that snus and “tobacco-derived products” will not be considered “tobacco products” under Oklahoma law.

Snus, by the way, is an oral product derived from ground tobacco. It’s a Swedish version of dipping tobacco. Snus canisters often include labels warning that the product can cause cancer and isn’t a safe alternative to cigarettes.

Thus, one outcome of SB 1892 is to declare that some products made from tobacco are not tobacco products. But that’s not all.

The bill doesn’t explain the difference between “tobacco products” and “tobacco-derived products,” so it’s anyone’s guess how regulators would be expected to differentiate between the two. That’s a gaping loophole.

SB 1892 also creates a statutory definition for “alternative nicotine products,” declaring those products to be ones that aren’t smoked but provide nicotine through “human consumption, whether chewed, absorbed, dissolved or ingested by any other means.” But then the bill exempts e-cigs from the definition of “alternative nicotine products” and instead defines e-cigs as “vapor products.”

So e-cigs, touted by their manufacturers as a way to obtain nicotine without smoking tobacco, would not be legally defined as products that provide nicotine without smoking tobacco. But snus apparently would be considered an alternative nicotine product. That’s an important distinction, because another provision of SB 1892 exempts vapor products and alternative nicotine products from tobacco taxes.

So SB 1892 effectively transforms snus from a tobacco product to an alternative nicotine product. Then the legislation prevents snus from being subject to tobacco taxes by exempting all alternative nicotine products from those taxes. This appears the real goal of SB 1892’s tortured definitions and resulting loopholes. In the purported cause of regulating e-cigarettes, the bill would actually reduce taxation and regulatory oversight of certain tobacco products.

And the legislation does nothing to advance the one e-cig proposal that enjoys broad support, because SB 1892 contains no language expressly banning the sale of e-cigs to teenagers.

SB 1892 doesn’t pass the smell test, let alone any common-sense threshold. It won’t go unnoticed that Johnson also authored a bill to assign Oklahoma’s electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote in presidential elections - after supporters of that proposal paid for Johnson to visit Las Vegas, ostensibly to discuss the issue. Now Johnson, who isn’t seeking re-election, has authored a bill to significantly reduce taxation and regulation of certain tobacco products, likely to the delight of associated financial interests.

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