четверг, 12 апреля 2012 г.

R.I. May Lower Cigarette Taxes

Lower Cigarette Taxes

While most states are discussing cigarette tax increases, Rhode Island is once again considering lowering theirs.

"It's clear that the cigarette tax in Rhode Island is high, especially in comparison to many of the neighboring states," Stephen Ryan, executive director at the New England C-Store Association (NECSA), told Tobacco E-News.

So Ryan is pleased to see that the state's House Finance Committee will next week discuss legislation put forth by State Rep. Robert Phillips to decrease state cigarette taxes by $1 to $2.46 a pack. Phillips' proposal seeks to drive consumers back to Rhode Island businesses and away from retail outlets in neighboring states with lower tax rates.

"I know we're in a constant state of worry over trying to find more money, but critics of this bill who say decreasing the cigarette tax will have a negative effect on state revenues have a very short-sighted view of how this could help us," Phillips said earlier this year. "Unfortunately, we live in a small state. It's easy to drive over the border into Massachusetts and Connecticut even if you're not living in a border community. That's not a problem other states have right now."

NECSA backs up Phillips' rationale. "Certainly," Ryan said, "when you look at the tax rates of many of the neighboring states, it does put Rhode Island retailers at a competitive disadvantage."

The bill, however, faces an uphill battle. Phillips had a similar bill rejected by the state last year. Further complicating matters is the fact that New Hampshire, a state that did pass a modest cigarette tax decrease in 2011, has not seen positive results. During the first four months after the 10-cent rollback was put into place, New Hampshire collected $77.5 million in cigarette taxes--$3.5 million or 4.3% less than what the legislative budget had predicted. In the previous year, the state collected $84 million during that time frame.

But Rhode Island is a very different situation. Even before the decrease, New Hampshire boasted a relatively low state tax of $1.68, compared to Rhode Island's current $3.46 per pack.

Further undermining Rhode Island is that it holds the highest cigarette tax state in New England. Maine's tax rate is $2 per pack; Vermont's is $2.62; Massachusetts is $2.51 (with a proposed hike to $3.01 per pack); and Connecticut averages a $3.40 sales tax per pack. In a state as small as Rhode Island, lowering the tax rate to $2.46 could result in huge sales increases for retailers--and not just from cigarette sales, advocates say.

"Clearly there's a connection between a consumer that comes in to buy one product like cigarettes and picks up other products along the way," said Ryan of NECSA. "It's not just a question of that one product being sold at a competitive price--it's about the additional sales of non-tobacco products in that store.

"What it translates into is more money for Rhode Island," said State Rep. John G. Edwards (D), a co-sponsor of the bill. "The economy isn't booming right now, so our small businesses are struggling as it is. We need to stay competitive. Vendors in my community often say that people will come into their stores to buy a pack of cigarettes and leave with newspapers, candy or other items, too."

With states like Massachusetts, California and Missouri all proposing tax increases, it's certainly worth watching how a cigarette tax decrease could help Rhode Island retailers.

Don't toss lighted cigarettes from cars

I travel from Linthicum to College Park via the Baltimore-Washington Parkway every weekday between the hours of 5:20 a.m. to 5:45 a.m. to catch a metro train to my office in Washington. Daily, I see motorists toss lit cigarettes out of their moving vehicles at least once if not more often. On one recent morning, I observed at least four such incidents. Nothing incites my hidden road rage tendencies more than a careless motorist flipping a lit cigarette out of their vehicle window onto the road.

When the cigarette hits the pavement, it will usually burst into a half-dozen miniature flaming embers that can land on a following vehicle, damaging the hood, or land in the vehicle's front grille. If the lit embers enter the grille, they can smolder in the little accumulations of combustible debris such as dead leaves and bugs around the radiator, starting a fire in the plastic-filled engine compartment hours later while the vehicle sits unattended in a parking lot. I have seen it happen.

Opinions wanted: Air Force going tobacco-free

designated tobacco use

The Air Force wants to be a tobacco-free institution — that’s the stated goal of a new instruction on tobacco use in the service. The new regs seriously curb your ability to light up anywhere except designated tobacco use areas and housing units.

That means no smoking near a base hospital, no smoking anywhere on base within 50 feet of a pedestrian walkway, including parking lots, and no smoking within 100 feet of playgrounds. And when the Air Force says it’s snuffing out cigarettes use, it’s talking about all tobacco use — including electronic cigarettes, stem pipes, water pipes, hookahs and smokeless products that are chewed or dipped.

WVU tobacco policy up for comment

campus-wide tobacco

West Virginia University has developed a campus-wide tobacco policy prohibiting all tobacco products throughout campus and has made the policy available online for public comment through May 9.
The new policy is planned to go into effect July 1, 2013, and is a result of recommendations forwarded to WVU President James P. Clements by the University’s Smoking Task Force. It amends the current Health Sciences Center’s tobacco-free policy to apply to the entire University.
"This present draft policy is a modification of the original HSC policy," said C.B. Wilson, WVU associate provost and chair of the Smoking Task Force. "That campus has already gone tobacco free based on that policy, so this elaborates on that policy and brings the rest of the Morgantown campus into play."
The policy will apply to all areas of campus, and it "applies to all employees of WVU Board of Governors and all WVU students located at or visiting the West Virginia University Health Sciences Center campus. Visitors, patients, contractors and vendors shall also be required to comply with this policy." The phrase "Health Sciences Center" will be stricken from the original wording to encompass the entire University.
The introduction of a campus-wide tobacco policy was inspired by support from different areas within the University, Wilson said, and the Task Force collaborated with the community to develop a campus-wide initiative.
"There was considerable pressure from the student government, who felt strongly about creating a smoke-free campus, as well as a conversation about the issue in staff council," Wilson said. "The president established the Smoking Task Force, and part of our work was to interview city council, members of the board of health, individuals from the cancer center and others statewide. We also reviewed the policies of other campuses, particularly land-grant campuses, to get a sense of what was going on across the U.S., and this idea has really caught on."
Clements said the opportunity for staff and students to provide feedback to the University is important to understanding the scope of the policy.
"First, let me thank the Smoking Policy Task Force and those who provided input for the time, effort and thoughtfulness they put into this process and the revised policy," Clements said. "Now, it’s time for the campus community and public to offer any further insight during this comment period – and prior to submission to the Board of Governors. WVU officials welcome any and all feedback."
Wilson said although using tobacco products is not an illegal act, the University hopes to prevent its usage on campus to promote a healthier on-campus atmosphere.
"We are hopeful that once it is announced, people will be mindful that it is in play, and that benign social interaction will help to enforce it," he said. "I think we’d like to rely on people’s good will to do this and have people interact with one another."
The University plans to actively promote smoking cessation opportunities, Wilson said, and the Health Sciences Center is working on a formal cessation program available to tobacco users.
"At one point in my life, I smoked three packs a day." Wilson said. "My wife and I both quit cold turkey – it’s hard. I appreciate that. At some level, we are not asking people to quit so much as we are simply asking them not to smoke while they’re on campus."

Hookah vote hooks city with hypocrisy

Hookah vote

It’s time to review the city’s strict — and suddenly hypocritical — anti-smoking policies.

According to local ordinances, smoking is very bad. So bad that drugstores can’t even sell cigarettes, which happen to be a perfectly legal product enjoyed by millions of Americans, many of whom also enjoy a persistent, hacking cough.

But the ban doesn’t benefit public health. It simply penalizes the business, as smokers aren’t going to quit simply because they can’t buy a pack at CVS. They’ll just go to White Hen instead, or perhaps Honey Farms, unless the Honey Farms is located in the building owned by the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, which is an educational institution, so cigarettes can’t be sold there, either.

It can get a bit confusing, and needlessly intrusive to business as well. Last year, nonetheless, dubbing public health a paramount concern, the City Council passed a host of amendments that impose greater restrictions on the sale and advertising of tobacco products.

Not everyone is a fan of the ordinances. Just last week, in fact, a U.S. District Court judge ruled that one of the proposed restrictions — a ban on tobacco advertising visible from streets, parks or schools — violated the First Amendment.

“The broad sweep of the ordinance suggests that the (city) did not consider how to tailor the restrictions so as not to unduly burden the plaintiffs’ free speech rights and the rights of adults to truthful information about tobacco products,” wrote Judge Douglas P. Woodlock.

The tough ordinances also ban any form of smoking at city-owned public buildings. District 2 City Councilor Philip P. Palmieri, a leading advocate of the laws, last year claimed, “There is not a more critical issue than this.”

So you can forgive my confusion when the council voted 11-0 Tuesday on an amendment that would allow a hookah bar in Union Station — one of the biggest public buildings in the city.

The approval paves the way for hookah smoke at Byblos Lounge, a Mediterranean restaurant and bar that’s not exactly thriving in Union Station. Last time I went there with a friend for dinner, we were the only patrons. One would-be customer claimed on a restaurant review website that she and her husband tried to have dinner at Byblos March 22, and the place was closed for the evening.

So, essentially, the city is committed to banning smoke wherever it can, except for struggling businesses that pay rent for space in city-owned buildings. The city says that Byblos’ formed its plan before the ordinances, but still — aren’t we sending a mixed message?

“Probably,” agreed City Councilor Konstantina Lukes. “But the explanation we received was that the place wasn’t doing well and they think they needed a hookah bar. My common sense tells me that’s not going to save them. But the council doesn’t want to be accused of blocking the chance to help them survive.”

I asked Palmieri if the move was sending a mixed message.

“No,” he said. “The lounge had paid rent at Union Station during the time that there wasn’t an ordinance.”

Er, OK. But didn’t the pharmacies that can’t sell cigarettes pay city taxes before the ordinance? Does the council’s devotion to saving lives cease when a local lounge needs more business?

For the non-hipsters among us, a hookah is used for smoking flavored tobacco. But lest you believe that hookah smoke is less harmful than cigarettes, a person in an hourlong hookah session inhales 100 to 200 times the volume of smoke in a single cigarette, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“People falsely believe that the water purifies the smoke and makes it more safe,” said Ryan Coffman, director of the Tobacco Consulting Service at UMass Memorial Medical Center. “But hookahs aren’t a safe alternative to cigarettes.”

It’s understandable that the city doesn’t want to see another business at Union Station go up in smoke. Officials are so desperate for commerce in the building that they’d probably sanction an opium den on the platform, if they thought it would help.

But we can’t have it both ways and treat local businesses differently. We can’t fight smoking on one hand while supporting it with another. Fair is fair.

“I’m totally against us slowly becoming a nanny city,” said City Councilor Michael Germain, who voted against the ordinances. “I don’t believe we should infringe on people’s right to harm themselves by smoking. It’s legal. We shouldn’t be in the middle of it.”

Hear, hear. Especially when the rules are inconsistent, ill-conceived and all over the place.

Fla. court says $79M tobacco award too much

line of tobacco lawsuits

A Florida appellate court has vacated a nearly $80 million verdict in one of a long line of tobacco lawsuits created by a state Supreme Court ruling.

The state's First District Court of Appeal did not overturn a Levy County jury's finding that R.J. Reynolds was partly liable for the death of James Cayce Horner, but did rule that a $79.2 million damages award was excessive.

The jury awarded $7.2 million in compensatory damages and $72 million in punitive damages.

"Although not determinative, the fact that the jury awarded double the amount of compensatory damages requested by (Plaintiff's) counsel and assigned to Mr. Horner half of the percentage of fault her counsel acknowledged during closing argument suggests the jury was influenced by prejudice or passion," says the decision, authored by Chief Judge Robert Benton.

Benton wrote that the compensatory damages award is more than the evidence presented can support. Because the compensatory damages must be vacated, so too must the punitives.

The court ordered a new trial on damages only.

Diane Webb had filed the lawsuit on behalf of Horner, her father. It was part of a group of lawsuits created by the state Supreme Court's 2006 decision in Engle v. Liggett Group.

The decision overturned a $145 billion punitive damages award for a class of smokers suing the tobacco industry but allowed members of the class to file their lawsuits individually.

Before a deadline, 4,500 suits were brought on behalf of those who died from a tobacco-related diseased or suffered from one before Nov. 21, 1996.

Recently, the United States Supreme Court refused to hear R.J. Reynolds' appeal of a $28.3 million verdict. The issue in that case was whether the plaintiff belonged to the Engle class.

Portability of E-Cigarettes Improved with New Charging Case

space e-cigarettes

Electronic cigarettes have made great strides in easing the switch from smoking to "vaping" (using an e-cigarette). But still, many users find it difficult to replace the pack and lighter with batteries, chargers, cartridges, a stock of e-liquids and more. Ecig Advanced, a news and reviews website for electronic cigarettes, has reported on a new product that aims to cut down on the space e-cigarettes will take up in customers pockets and purses.

According to the report, a new ultra-slim charging case from Stog.com called the "Stasher" employs a much more compact design than other cases. These cases are meant to hold the electronic cigarette and all of its components for easy transport and use. A representative from Stog.com is quoted in the report on the intentions of the product:

"The Stasher was designed to give smokers a low maintenance way to transition to 'vaping'. We wanted a case about the size of a cellphone that would safely store a fully assembled Stog Classic, extra filters, and also charge a spare [battery].

Our Stasher gives smokers the same portability and convenience they’re used to with their tobacco cigarettes. Smokers may now save money on tobacco tax and eliminate countless chemicals resulting from combustion; it's all about making a bad habit less intrusive on your day to day life."

According to Ecig Advanced reviewer Kevin Burke, the Stasher does allow users of e-cigarettes to carry everything they need inside of the ultra-slim pack:

"The big news is that the Stasher has the same features as the best [portable cases] with just about half the width. While we've seen other slimline [cases] in the past. This is the first we've seen that allows space for charging, an assembled e-cig and extra cartomizers."

Some may be concerned that, as is often the case, a smaller, more visually appealing design makes for a product with lessened performance. But for the Stasher, this doesn't appear to be the case, Ecig Advanced writes:

"The decrease in size doesn't seem to have affected its usefulness either, as the Stasher will charge a Stog battery 3-4 times before running out of juice. The pack also has a quality feel, with a soft-touch finish and a sturdiness that has been lacking in other slimline cases we've reviewed."

According to ECig Advanced, Stog will have the fresh-design case available as part of the Classic Stasher Kit ($94.50) which includes everything one needs to get started with e-cigarettes.