Some flavored tobacco products might not be around in Washington for much longer.
Senate Bill 5380, which had a hearing Monday in Olympia, would ban some kinds of tobacco products in the state, a move that the measure’s supporters say will keep kids off nicotine but opponents say will hurt the economy and limit adults’ free choice.
“Limiting tobacco products that are particularly appealing to young people – the flavored and the candy-like – is a major step toward our goal of keeping all kids from starting to use tobacco,” said state Secretary of Health Mary Selecky.
She argued that young people are curious about tobacco products that taste good and those who start using a nicotine product before they are 18 are more likely to use tobacco for the rest of their lives, driving up healthcare costs in the state.
The bill would ban tobacco products that have an aroma or flavor other than tobacco or menthol, that are marketed as such or that come in dissolvable, capsule form. It would also require all tobacco products to be displayed somewhere they are not directly accessible to buyers and would allow county-level jurisdictions to pass tobacco regulations that are stricter than state ones.
According to the bill’s fiscal note, it would lead to a loss of tax revenue of about $21 million for the state in the 2011-13 biennium, but supporters of the bill said that the health benefits of keeping young people off tobacco would offset those losses.
A 2010 study from the state tobacco prevention program estimated that $5 have been saved in healthcare costs for every dollar spent on prevention in the last 10 years, though these savings were based on total costs to patients, hospitals and insurance companies, not just savings to the state.
Washington tobacco retailers argued that they were saddled with enough restrictions already and that the Legislature should focus on enforcing existing laws, which prohibit anyone under 18 from buying tobacco.
Mark Johnson of the Washington Retail Association said that the bill would be particularly harmful to small retailers, who rely on the money tobacco sales bring in.
Jeff Packer, owner of the Tinder Box tobacco store in Tacoma said the bill was a “disaster financially,” that would cut into his profits and would limit adults’ rights in the state.
“This bill represents an attack on personal liberty of adults to choose for themselves the activity they find relaxing and enjoyable,” Packer said.
Republicans on the Senate Labor, Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee, which held the hearing on the bill, agreed with Packer’s argument.
“It seems to me that the answer to this is really, I think, rather simple,” Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, referring to the regulation of flavored tobacco products. “Rather than outlawing, why don’t we just require that they’re kept behind the counter?”
Supporters, including Jim Cooper of the Washington Association for Substance Abuse and Violence Prevention and Nick Federici of the American Cancer Society said the problem with flavored products was that they often seemed to be designed specifically to appeal to children, with products that have flavors including chocolate chip cookie dough and banana split.
“These are products that would make Joe Camel blush,” said Sen. Scott White, D-Seattle, the bill’s primary sponsor.
White said he was open to the idea of amending the bill so that it did not ban the products entirely in order to address opponents’ concerns about adult free choice.
Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles, a Seattle Democrat and the chairwoman of the committee, said she expected the bill to be amended before it had a vote. She said she was concerned that the language of the bill was too broad and could include some cigars and other products that do not target children.
Katie Schmidt: 360-786-1826 firstname.lastname@example.org