Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon should veto sneaky cigarette bill

07/10/2014 1:18 PM

07/12/2014 6:36 PM

Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon is doing an excellent job of vetoing the worst of the General Assembly’s bills, and calling them out for what they are.

Today, the governor vetoed a bill that sneakily purports to protect consumers from the predatory payday loan industry, but does nothing of the sort. “Allowing payday lenders to charge 912.5 percent (interest) for a 14-day loan is not true reform,” Nixon pointed out in his veto message.

No kidding.

You know if the payday loan industry supports a bill, as it did with this one, that something is up. Missouri is among the laxest states when it comes to regulating short-term loans. Scared to death of true reform, the industry would love to get the issue off of the table with some phony regulations. So it collaborated with friendly Republican legislators on some benign measures, such as a slightly lower cap on interest rates and an easily circumvented prohibition on rollover loans.

The sham “reform” bill fooled no one, and certainly not Nixon. The legislation, he wrote, “appears to be part of a coordinated effort by the payday loan industry to avoid more meaningful reform.”

Earlier in the week, Nixon pointed out that, in copying “model” legislation from the corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council, the Missouri General Assembly had inadvertently included a factual error that could cause problems down the road.

The vetoed bill, which would have required background checks for health care navigators, pointed out rather dramatically how eager the legislature is to take its cue from the exchange council, known as ALEC.

Nixon must take action on all bills by early next week. And since he’s doing a good job of spotting sneaky legislation, I’m hoping he won’t miss Senate Bill 841.

On the surface, it appears to be a well-meaning attempt to stop teenagers younger than 18 from purchasing e-cigarettes. But then why is the language so similar to bills sponsored in other states? And why did Reynolds American Tobacco lobby so hard for the legislation?

Health groups are pretty sure it has everything to do with the provision in the legislation stating, “Alternative nicotine products and vapor products shall only be sold to persons 18 or older, shall be subject to local and state sales taxes, but shall not be taxed or otherwise regulated as tobacco products.”

Clearly, the tobacco industry sees electronic cigarettes, which release a flavored vapor that sometimes contains nicotine, as an emerging market. With the above sentence, e-cigarettes would be exempt from the state tax on tobacco products and all other pesky regulations. And if their usage helps get people addicted to the real thing, so much the better.

Five health care groups — the American Lung Association, American Heart Association, Cancer Action Network, American Stroke Association and Tobacco Free Missouri — sent Nixon a letter urging him to veto the bill. It stated, in part:

“Without evidence regarding the safety of these products, any legislation that does not define electronic smoking devices as tobacco products is a dangerous proposition and may pose a risk to the health of Missourians. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration will regulate electronic cigarettes as tobacco products once its proposed rule asserting authority over all tobacco products is finalized. By carving out exemptions for e-cigarettes, Senate Bill 841 has the potential to weaken existing tobacco regulations in our state, which is why the tobacco industry supports this bill.’

With the nation’s lowest cigarette tax and a failure to fund meaningful smoking prevention and cessation efforts, Missouri has done enough favors for the tobacco industry. Nixon should veto this transparent attempt to create a new market for a largely untested product.

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