Smoking and Fireworks Bill a Big Gamble for West Virginia

cig on symbolThe West Virginia Senate later today will take up HB-2646 on second reading (amendment stage).

This bill, which originally passed the House as a fireworks regulation bill, was dramatically changed by the Senate Judiciary Committee though a string and insert amendment which included language to preempt local health regulations regarding clean indoor air for casinos and veteran organizations in addition to adding a 50 cent a year for two year tobacco tax. Revenues from the tax on cigarettes and the fees from fireworks sales would be directed to veterans, substance abuse treatment and volunteer fire departments.

“We have everything in here but a new barn for the State Fair,” said Sen. Ron Miller of Greenbrier County.

For the full strike and insert amendment click here.

The clean indoor air preemption section of the bill is similar to the provisions of SB-109 which previously passed the Senate except it covers only veteran groups and casinos and does not provide exemptions for limited video lottery establishments and fraternal organizations. There are ventilation requirements for casinos and a requirement that at least 10% of the facility be no smoking.

The Coalition for a Tobacco-Free West Virginia strongly opposes passage of HB-2646 as it has been amended by the Senate.

The preemptive language in the bill will set back nearly two decades of local tobacco control efforts to protect citizens from exposure to toxic tobacco smoke where the live, work and play.

Workers at the establishments exempted under this bill would be forced, as a condition of employment, to expose themselves on a daily basis of a toxic soup of carcinogens.

As for the tobacco tax portion of the bill the Coalition for a Tobacco Free West Virginia has as a public policy priority to significantly increase our state’s tobacco tax. Unfortunately, this bill proposes to phase in an increase over two years which would negate most of the public health benefits of a tax increase. Tobacco manufacturers have ability to offset the impact of small, incremental tax increases, like proposed in this legislation, by offering coupons and discounts to minimize the “sticker shock” which is key to the strategy of utilizing a tax increase to leverage smokers to quit and deter potential smokers from starting.

In addition, the chance of a any tax increase gaining final approval of the legislature this year is extremely unlikely. Several tobacco tax bills were introduced this year and none received even consideration in committee. Neither the House or Senate Finance Committees have considered this legislation to discuss the revenues and how they would be spent. The majority of both Republic and Democratic members have expressed an unwillingness to even discuss a tobacco tax this year.

The bottom line on HB-2646 is that it is a gambling bill. The sole purpose of the amendment which even Senate members described as a “Christmas Tree” bill is to grant casinos and a few other entities exemption from clean indoor air regulations. The rest is just window dressing in order to hide the true nature and purpose of the proposed legislation.
With just three days left in the legislative session the Coalition for a Tobacco Free West Virginia urges you to contact your representatives in the legislature and urge them to REJECT ANY BILL WHICH WEAKENS CLEAN INDOOR AIR! The message is simple but needs to come through loud and clear.


You can find contact information for your House Members here.

You can find contact information for your Senate Members here.

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