Idaho - state senator whose husband is a tobacco lobbyist snuffed out bill..

February 23, 2010 - An Idaho senator whose husband is a tobacco-company lobbyist snuffed out a bill Monday, February 22nd to ban the industry's latest products - dissolvable tobacco.

Sen. Melinda Smyser, R-Parma, changed her vote after members of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee initially voted 5-4 for a bill that would bar dissolvable tobacco lozenges, strips and sticks now being tested by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. Another company is already selling such lozenges here.

Smyser's switch killed the measure. Boise Democrat Elliot Werk, the measure's sponsor, compared dissolvable tobacco to candy, saying the attractively packaged products could get teens hooked on nicotine. Utah is considering a similar ban.

Smyser's husband, Skip Smyser, lobbies for Altria Group Inc., maker of Marlboro cigarettes and Skoal smokeless tobacco. Altria doesn't currently have dissolvable tobacco products on the market, but a company spokesman in Richmond, Va., declined to say whether it's developing similar items to those from rival R.J. Reynolds. "We don't comment on product development," said Bill Phelps, a spokesman for Altria's Philip Morris USA unit.

Altria CEO Michael Szymanczyk said those tobacco users are seeking smokeless tobacco that doesn’t require them to spit the way they must with moist snuff. That could mean a variety of “snus,” a traditional Swedish-style oral tobacco, “or other future products,” Szymanczyk said. He did not elaborate on those, though Altria researchers have for years explored dissolvable strips and inhalers. The company already sells a Marlboro-branded and Skoal snus. (Altria - new marketing strategy with emphasis on Marlboro SNUS..)

Smyser noted a possible conflict of interest, as is required by Senate rules, before her first vote to approve the measure. She said after the hearing that her husband's work didn't affect her change of heart but didn't explain why she switched sides.

"I'm just an individual person that makes my own decisions," Smyser told The Associated Press.

The committee debated the measure intensely, with several Republicans expressing skepticism. Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Coeur D'Alene, argued dissolvable tobacco products actually reduce second-hand smoke. Smyser didn't speak up during the debate.

Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter appointed Smyser, the 51-year-old GOP activist from rural southwestern Idaho to the District 11 Senate seat in January 2009 to replace Brad Little, who was elevated to lieutenant governor. In addition to lobbying for Altria, her husband is a former state House and Senate member.

Altria is among companies hoping to increase their market share in smokeless tobacco products as tax hikes, health concerns, smoking bans and social stigma cut demand for cigarettes. In 2009, the industry estimates cigarette volumes fell about 8 percent, partly because of a 62-cents-per-pack federal tax increase that took effect in April.

R.J. Reynolds said it's pleased with initial testing of dissolvable tobacco products under its Camel brand in three cities: Portland, Ore., Indianapolis and Columbus, Ohio. David Howard, a spokesman, said the Winston-Salem, N.C.-based company is merely responding to adult demand for new tobacco products and does not want to target teens.

"There is nothing, not one thing about them, that is anything like candy," he said.
Star Scientific Inc., formerly known as Star Tobacco and Pharmaceuticals, already sells small tobacco lozenges in Idaho retail stores under the Ariva and Stonewall brands.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) asked Star and R.J. Reynolds this month to produce research and marketing information about dissolvable tobacco products, saying they could be particularly appealing to young adults. (U.S. FDA - concerned that dissolvable tobacco products could draw in children and teenagers..)

Reference: ID senator changes mind, helps kill tobacco bill by SIMMI AUJLA - Associated Press Writer - Associated Press, 2/22/2010.

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