Vaping industry has already laid groundwork for potential legislative fights

By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports

Tuesday’s news that the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare had confirmed its first two cases of vaping associated respiratory illness in the state only added to the national discussion over what, if anything, should be done about e-cigarettes. But the debate on vaping has already started in Idaho.

In the Secretary of State’s lobbyist database, Idaho Reports found four vaping-related companies that employ a total of seven lobbyists. Those companies include Swisher, a sister company to electronic cigarette company E-Alternative Solutions; vaping industry leader Juul; Altria, which owns multiple tobacco companies like Phillip Morris and has a 35 percent stake in Juul; and Reynolds American Incorporated, which owns RJ Reynolds Vapor.

Altria, by far, was the biggest spender. In 2019, Sacramento-based Altria lobbyist Amanda Klump reported spending a total of $16,926,01, making her the sixth on the list of highest-spending lobbyists this year, according to the Secretary of State’s office. Those expenses included spending $500 for inaugural ball tickets for House Majority Leader Mike Moyle and his wife, Idaho State Tax Commissioner Janet Moyle, in January.

Altria has also donated to a number of Idaho legislative candidates, giving about $23,000 in the 2018 election cycle alone.

During the 2019 legislative session, Klump reported spending related to lobbying on three specific bills: the two voter initiative bills that were ultimately vetoed by Gov. Brad Little, and a bill that would have added a 15 percent tax to electronic cigarettes. The latter bill, sponsored by Reps. John Gannon and Greg Chaney, stalled in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee in late March.

Chaney told Idaho Reports on Wednesday that Gannon had been the driving force on the bill. As for whether it will come back in the 2020 session? “In light of recent events, it would be even more relevant,” Chaney said.

The tobacco industry as a whole isn’t immune to the recent scrutiny on vaping. The news that two Idahoans have been hospitalized for vaping-associated lung issues prompted Senate Health and Welfare Chairman Fred Martin to post on social media that he wants to raise the smoking age from 18 to 21.

“It is now time to pass the Tobacco 21 bill (that I have introduced twice),” Martin wrote on a public Facebook post. “It would help to keep e-cigarettes out of the hand of middle and high schoolers before more of our children are harmed.”

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