Missouri senators discuss tobacco regulation, inclusion of vapor products in smoking bans

The Rolla Daily News

A bill to further regulate tobacco products and modify the Clean Air Act was read to the Committee for Seniors, Families, Veterans & Military Affairs Wednesday morning.

Sponsored by Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield, Senate Bill 124 would reaffirm the 2019 Tobacco 21 federal law that raises the legal age to purchase “certain tobacco, alternative nicotine or vapor products” to 21 years old.

The Clean Air Act would now include vapor products such as electronic cigarettes and vapor cartridges in the definition of “smoking,” which means those products would be included in the ban on smoking in public places and child day care facilities, outside of designated areas.

Furthermore, vapor products and “electronic nicotine delivery systems” would now be classified as tobacco products, meaning they would be taxed like tobacco products. Penalties and fines for business owners for selling to those under 21 would also increase.

Four witnesses spoke, three for the bill and one against. Supporters of the bill were Heidi Geisbuhler Sutherland with the Missouri State Medical Association, Former First Ward Columbia Councilperson Ginny Chadwick and registered lobbyist Garrett Webb for the Missouri Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Ron Leone, the executive director for the Missouri Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, spoke against the bill. Leone’s major issue was the increase in fines and penalties that would be placed on business owners.

“This particular provision makes even less sense because what typically happens when somebody sells to a minor, [the business] fires that clerk and that clerk is gone, they go somewhere else to find another job,” he said. “And the small business owner is left to deal with paying the fines and suffering the consequences.”

Additionally, Leone took issue with the classification of electronic cigarettes and vapors as tobacco products because “they don’t contain tobacco, they contain nicotine.”

Chairperson of the SFVM Committee Sen. Bill White, R-Joplin, reminded Leone of the “problem that apparently is not being addressed of minor usage and the cost of health care and injury to those minors.”

Leone clarified, “I’m not here saying any of these products are good for you in any way, shape or form. ... My members are good actors. I can’t tell you what the members that I don’t represent are doing, but my members follow the law. They sell a lawful adult product to adults.”

“Your good actors though should not then be impacted by an increase in fines or a reduction in the or an increase in the duration where you could not sell these products,” Chairperson White responded. “If they’re adequately supervising their staff, they should have minimal concern about an increase in penalty and increase in duration of nonsales, because they are, as you say, good actors, there’s always gonna be a little slip through.”

The bill would also repeal the elimination of penalties if the owner has a tobacco compliance training program. Businesses that sell tobacco products, vapor products, alternative nicotine products or rolling papers, in any quantity, must annually register with the Department of Revenue prior to such sale, provision or distribution. There is a $50 registration fee, which would be used to enforce state tobacco laws and cessation activities. If business owners do not register, the penalties would increase for each offense.