Veiled State Threats to Premium Tobacco

Tobacco control policy has had dramatic shifts over the past few years and these shifts have exacerbated over recent months due to the pandemic. Premium tobacconists and PCA members must be vigilant of veiled threats to their small businesses in states and localities. The association advocacy staff have witnessed three recent trends in state legislation and regulation that are causes for concern in the immediate regulatory future, bill pre-filing, and new state legislative sessions.

1. Tobacco 21
On December 20, 2019, the President signed legislation amending the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, and raising the federal minimum age for sale of tobacco products from 18 to 21 years. This action made the sale of tobacco products illegal at the federal level and many state legislatures have already adopted measures to correspond with the federal action.

However, intertwined with Tobacco 21 legislation, many bills contain added provisions that place further restrictions on the sale of tobacco products. For example, in Michigan the state legislature considered empowering local jurisdictions the ability to place further restrictions on the retail sale of tobacco products. Furthermore, localities such as Suffolk County, NY have considered raising the age even further to 25.

As several states look to align the age of sale of the purchase of tobacco products to the federal requirement, PCA members and state association must carefully read the legislation and be on the lookout for additional restrictions that move the goal posts further.

2. Flavor and Characterizing Flavors
State legislatures are developing policy to counteract youth usage of flavored vapor products and machine made/non-premium flavored cigars. However, if the legislative text is not written explicitly addressing these categories of tobacco products, premium cigars and their “characterizing flavors” (i.e. tasting notes used to describe the cigar) along with pipe tobacco could be encompassed in these prohibition or restriction bills.

In California, PCA successfully fought for a carve out of premium cigars and pipe tobacco in a bill that contained vague provisions that will now be decided via referendum in the state. As state legislatures grapple with the issue of flavored tobacco products, PCA members and state associations must carefully read the legislation and be on the lookout for vague provisions that could inadvertently restrict premium tobacco products.

3. Executive and Administrative COVID-19 Action
Anti-tobacco groups have recently been pushing Governors and Executive Administrative staff to take emergency action in support of anti-smoking regulations in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. These actions range from prohibiting smoking in venues such as casinos in New Jersey to outright prohibitions on the sale of tobacco products. This is an area that has focused on traditional combustible products and vapor products but will also apply to premium tobacco products in many cases. This type of action is a lot more costly and logistically difficult to counteract versus legislative action.

PCA will work with members to identify regulatory threats and utilize appropriate advocacy tools to prevent implementation. PCA members and state associations must be vigilant of advocacy by anti-smoking groups to influence Governors and Executive Departments considering unilateral administrative actions under the veil of a Covid-19 response. If you have questions about state government affairs in your area or would like to schedule an advocacy training for your retail employees, please email Joshua Habursky or by phone at 814-881-1618.