A new national development illustrates — again — just how much influence big tobacco had on legislation to provide money for a cancer research institute at UAMS.

In the end, UAMS got its money and the tobacco lobby got some door prizes: Act 580 provided a little extra money for tobacco retailers through an amendment to price control law, it outlawed local ordinances putting restrictions on sale and distribution of tobacco products; it delayed full imposition of a 21-year-old tobacco-purchasing age, and it added no new taxes to the exploding e-cigarette/vaping industry or any other tobacco. It paid for all of UAMS cancer money with taxes on medical marijuana and rolling papers. Other legislation to generate money from tobacco taxes was killed.


But there was another tobacco door prize  in the original legislation by Rep. Andy Davis and Sen. Jonathan Dismang, HB 1442.

It related to this news today, the Food and Drug Administration’s approval to sell a “heated tobacco product,” known as IQOS. Philip Morris also is seeking approval from the FDA to market it as being “less harmful” than cigarettes, a request that is still pending. The heat sticks are already being sold overseas.  From CNBC


The iQOS tobacco heating system contains three parts: a holder, tobacco stick and a charger. The pen-like device contains a ceramic and gold plate that heats Philip Morris-branded tobacco sticks up to 350 degrees Celsius. Tobacco in cigarettes burns at temperatures at or greater than 600 degrees Celsius.

When reviewing PMI’s application, the FDA found the aerosol iQOS products emit “contains fewer toxic chemicals than cigarette smoke, and many of the toxins identified are present at lower levels than in cigarette smoke.” The agency also found iQOS delivered similar nicotine levels as conventional cigarettes, “suggesting a likelihood that IQOS users may be able to completely transition away from combustible cigarettes” and use only iQOS.

In a Tweet today, Dr. Joe Thompson of the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement, called the device the “next move in Big Tobacco’s playbook.” Indeed it is. I tried vainly to talk to him about it back when the first tobacco bill was introduced in the recent legislative session, because it was so transparently a vehicle for the tobacco lobby. But he and other cigarette crusaders stood mute at the time. The UAMS legislation hung in the balance.



Some other tougher legislation, including some serious tobacco tax increases in Senate-passed legislation, at least led to a few changes in the original bill.

One was the deletion of a passage anticipating the coming FDA approval of the IQOS and plans to greet it in Arkansas with an instant preferential tax rate.

Here’s the language from the original bill that didn’t make the final version:


Modified risk tobacco products — Reduced rate of taxation.

Notwithstanding any other provision of the law to the contrary, a tax imposed under this chapter shall be reduced by the following amounts:

(1) Fifty percent (50%) for a product for which a modified risk tobacco product order has been issued by the United States Secretary of Health and Human Services under 21 U.S.C. § 387k(g)(1), as it existed on January 1, 2019; and

(2) Twenty-five percent (25%) for a product for which a modified
risk tobacco product order has been issued by the United States Secretary of Health and Human Services under 21 U.S.C. § 387k(g)(2), as it existed on January 1, 2019.

Cutting taxes on a product not even introduced in Arkansas yet and certainly not subject to much rigorous, non-partisan study? The provision was out there in plain sight, but invisible to virtually all in the legislature (save those in on the scheme).

When you’re Altria, the owner of Philip Morris, you can get that kind of thing done. Altria chips in when fancy soirees are thrown for political big shots like the governor and leaders of the House and Senate; it employs lobbyists (Mullenix Associates); contributes to political candidates. In short: Its calls get returned.