Texas - tobacco lobbyists - derailing state smoking ban/smokeless tobacco tax change..

May 11, 2009 - In this year's legislative session, tobacco interests have retained 40 lobbyists – including seven former lawmakers – to influence proposals to limit cigarettes and change taxes on smokeless tobacco. So far, with three weeks left in the session, the lobbyists have registered successes, derailing two proposals that enjoyed widespread legislative support – a statewide smoking ban in public places and a new formula for taxes on chew.

Lance Armstrong - a Texan, the world's most famous cancer survivor's foundation is on the verge of losing its top priority of the legislative session: a statewide ban on smoking in most public places, including bars and restaurants.

Senator Jane Nelson, chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, has not allowed a vote on the bill, frustrating supporters who considered her advocacy a major boost in getting the bill passed into law. Getting a Senate vote doesn't guarantee the bill will ultimately pass this time either.

Sen. Rodney Ellis, the Houston Democrat sponsoring the smoking ban measure has stated that Republican Gov. Rick Perry said he'd allow the bill to become law if it gets to his desk.

Many cities around Texas have passed some sort of smoking ban, efforts at a statewide crackdown have failed in recent years. At present (April 29, 2009) twenty-eight Texas cities currently have smoking bans in place.

The second measure hobbling through the legislative session would change the way smokeless tobacco is taxed and apply the money for incentives to have young doctors practice medicine in underserved areas. Raising taxes on certain smokeless tobacco products, which are now taxed by price. If this bill would become law certain smokeless tobacco would tax it instead by weight. The issue has makers of lower-priced brands of snuff fighting more expensive products. Robert Culley, a lobbyist for Conwood, a Reynolds American company and maker of the smokeless tobacco brand Grizzly, said he’s against the bill. Bill Phelps, a spokesman for Altria, the parent company of U.S. Smokeless Tobacco, said his company supports weight-based taxation for smokeless tobacco products.

Reference: Tobacco firms' 40 lobbyists put popular proposals at risk by ROBERT T. GARRETT and CHRISTY HOPPE, The Dallas Morning News, 5/11/2009; Smoking ban bill being blocked from Senate vote by JIM VERTUNO, Associated Press, May 6, 2009; Proposed tax increase on tobacco would fund doctor incentive by Corrie MacLaggan, statesman.com, 3/23/2009.

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