Rowden Bill Favors Big Tobacco in Latest Move to Squeeze Money from Small Businesses

As the legislature works to balance the budget in the final few days of session, lawmakers are setting their eyes on regulating e-cigarettes and vapor products. Recently assigned to committee, Senate Bill 1085 (Senator Caleb Rowden-R) would require vapor manufacturers to register their products with the state – after already registering with the federal government. Worse, the legislation adds a licensing fee for each and every vape product, up to $500 per product, in order to maintain the newly created state registry.

The legislation comes after a barrage of misinformation about youth e-cigarette use and unrelated marijuana vaping-related lung injuries that dominated media headlines prior to America’s COVID-19 epidemic. Lawmakers’ intentions are in the right place, but similar to other vaping proposals in other states, this legislation is another whack-a-mole attempt to solve problems that aren’t really problems at all and will have dire unintended consequences for small businesses in Missouri.

According to data from the 2019 Missouri Youth Risk Behavior Survey a large percentage of Missouri youth are not vaping. In fact, in 2019, nearly 80 percent of Missouri kids did not use an e-cigarette in the 30 days prior to being surveyed.

Lawmakers should know that regulating legal e-cigarettes and vapor products is unlikely to impact vaping-related hospitalizations as these have been overwhelmingly linked to the use of illicit products containing tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Often, these products are bought from black market sources and contain unknown ingredients.

In December 2019, over $1 million worth of THC vaping cartridges was seized by authorities in Cooper County. Missouri law enforcement have also seized large amounts of THC vaping cartridges in March and September of 2019.

While the proposed legislation is unlikely to address youth e-cigarette use and vaping-related lung illnesses, it will, however, snuff out thousands of small businesses in the Show-Me State and allow Big Tobacco to reign supreme with cancer causing cigarettes.

The proposed licensing fee would minimally impact large players such as JUUL. For example, JUUL offers two flavors, available in two different nicotine strengths. Under the proposed legislation, JUUL would be subject to a licensing fee of only $2,000. A small mom-and-pop manufacturer with a line of 20 flavors, all available in three different nicotine strengths, would be subject to a $30,000 licensing fee.

Missouri’s registry would be after vapor product manufacturers register their products with the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), via a premarket tobacco application (PMTA). This arduous process will be time consuming and expensive. FDA estimates each PMTA will cost $330,000. It’s unseemly that conservative lawmakers would try and squeeze more money out of Missourians for a duplicate registry.

Further, there is no guarantee that the licensing fees will amount to enough funding to run the state registry. It is likely many small vapor manufacturers will be unable to afford the associated costs and close shop. Given that Missouri is required by law to have a balanced budget, the proposed legislation doesn’t add up. The obvious question is: why should Missouri pony up funds to enforce federal laws?

Senate Bill 1085 is a gift-wrapped present to Big Tobacco by conservative lawmakers and it would have devastating effects on the availability of much safer alternatives for adults. The legislation will shutter small businesses across the Show-Me State at a time when small businesses are suffering. Lawmakers should overwhelmingly reject this terrible legislation.

 

A.J. Moll, from St. Louis, heads up Missouri Smoke Free, a not-for-profit (501c4) tobacco harm reduction organization working to create a healthier Missouri.

Lindsey Stroud (lindsey@thr101.org) is the creator and manager of Tobacco Harm Reduction 101 (www.thr101.org), a website that provides analysis and insight on tobacco and vapor products.