When lobbyist declarations speak louder than headlines

The working of Iowa's state legislature is transparent in many ways. The official legislative website provides thorough, timely and permanently accessible information about bills, legislators, committees, votes, and other events. Most Iowa House and Senate members are accessible to interested constituents, even listing their home and/or cell phone numbers on the web. When the legislature is in session, members of the public can come to the Capitol during working hours and often speak to key lawmakers about the issues they care about.

Nevertheless, it can be hard for those on the outside to figure out what is really going on at the statehouse. So it was last week when the Iowa House approved House File 2109, "An Act relating to vapor products and alternative nicotine products, and providing penalties." Following the lead of the bill's sponsor, news headlines made this legislation sound like a step toward protecting children's health: "Iowa House approves ban on sale of e-cigarettes to minors"; "Iowa House passes ban on e-cigarettes for minors"; "House votes to ban e-cigarette sales to minors."

The lobbyist declarations told a different story.  

You can read the full text of House File 2109 here. Republican State Representative Chip Baltimore, the bill's lead sponsor, said the goal was tokeep nicotine "out of the hands of children" because of its addictive qualities. To that end, HF 2109 would prohibit retailers from selling e-cigarettes, which deliver nicotine vapor, to minors.

When I hear about a proposed restriction on retail sales in the name of public health, I assume non-profit health advocacy groups will support the bill, and lobbyists representing sellers will lobby against it. The opposite was true for HF 2019: the lobbyist declarations show the following groups registered against the bill.

Iowa Medical Society

Visiting Nurse Services of Iowa

American Lung Association

American Heart Association

American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network

Clean Air For Everyone Iowa Citizen's Action Network

Iowa Counties Public Health Association

Groups registered as supporters of HF 2109:

RAI Service Company (a subsidiary of the Reynolds tobacco group)

Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Stores of Iowa

Altria Client Services Inc. and its Affiliates (part of the Philip Morris tobacco group)

Iowa Association of Business and Industry

Iowa Lodging Association

Iowa Restaurant Association

Iowa Retail Federation

Iowa Grocery Industry Association

Kum and Go (a major convenience store chain in Iowa)

Iowa Association of School Boards

Iowans For Alternatives to Smoking and Tobacco (I was unable to find any other references to this organization. Their lobbyist Mike Triplett told me the group was just formed this year by retailers that sell cigarette substitutes.)

Why would the tobacco industry and retailers be so eager to ban the sale of e-cigarettes to minors? Because of what HF 2109 does not do: it doesn't classify e-cigarettes as tobacco products, "a distinction that exempts them from the higher taxes levied on traditional tobacco products as well as the state's indoor smoking ban." It also doesn't ban fruit-flavored e-cigarettes, which don't contain nicotine but are marketed to children.

When the Iowa House debated HF 2109 on February 11, Democrats tried to strengthen the bill. State Representative Tyler Olson proposed an amendment to ban all e-cigarette sales to Iowans under age 18, including products that don't contain nicotine. Responding to my request for comment, he said,

The bill legalizes the sale of cherry, grape and other fruit flavors to minors so long as they do not contain nicotine. The danger of forming an addiction is more than just the nicotine, it is the habit a kid forms going to the store, buying and smoking an e-cigarette (nicotine or not).

The second concern is the Iowa Department of Revenue informed me the bill may remove items from the list of products currently subject to excise tax. This means tobacco control efforts would be set back. The amendment I offered simply banned the sale of all e-cigarettes to minors and made sure there was no backward movement on control efforts.

At Baltimore's request, the chair ruled Olson's amendment "not germane," which I find strange, since its provisions were related to "vapor products and alternative nicotine products." A Democratic motion to suspend the rules and consider the amendment anyway failed on party lines (roll call in the House Journal for the day).

State Representative Brian Meyer proposed an amendment that would require a permit to sell e-cigarettes, as retailers need to sell traditional cigarettes. That amendment came to a vote but went down on party lines.

State Representative Patti Ruff offered an amendment to ban the use of e-cigarette on school property. Again, Baltimore rose to argue that her amendment was "not germane," and the chair agreed. Another Democratic motion to suspend the rules went down on party-lines.

Explaining his vote against the bill, Democratic State Representative Art Staed said HF 2109 "bans the sale of e-cigarettes with nicotine for minors under 18 years but created a new group of products, including e-cigarettes, that do not require permits, are not taxed and can be purchased by anyone, of any age."

From this perspective, you can see why so many public health advocacy groups registered against this bill.

HF 2109 did get strong bipartisan support in the 76-22 vote on final passage. All 53 Iowa House Republicans voted yes, along with the following Democrats: Bruce Bearinger, Deborah Berry, Dennis Cohoon, David Dawson, Nancy Dunkel, John Forbes, Mary Gaskill, Chris Hall, Curt Hanson, Bob Kressig, Dan Lundby, Jim Lykam, Helen Miller, Dan Muhlbauer, Pat Murphy, Rick Olson, Scott Ourth, Joe Riding, Kirsten Running-Marquardt, Mark Smith, Phyllis Thede, Roger Thomas, and Frank Wood.

The 22 House Democrats who voted against this bill were Ako Abdul-Samad, Marti Anderson, Ruth Ann Gaines, Lisa Heddens, Bruce Hunger, Chuck Isenhart, Dave Jacoby, Anesa Kajtazovic, Dan Kelley, Vicki Lensing, Mary Mascher, Brian Meyer, Jo Oldson, Tyler Olson, Todd Prichard, Patti Ruff, Art Staed, Sharon Steckman, Sally Stutsman, Todd Taylor, Beth Wessel-Kroeschell, and Cindy Winckler.

Any relevant comments are welcome in this thread.

  • Why would the IASB support the tobacco industry's bill?

    Is it just because they are dominated by conservative Republicans?

  • The science agrees with this bill: Congrats Demos who support science

    A group that wasn't listed on the lobbyist declaration page was CASAA . . . we weren't listed because we're an all-volunteer grassroots nonprofit consumer group with no paid employees and no lobbyists. But we were in favor of the legislation because we believe that e-cigarettes shouldn't be available to minors. However, we don't believe that it is appropriate to pass legislation that makes e-cigarettes less accessible or affordable to adults given that the risks associated with e-cigarettes pose a risk of only 1% of that of smoking.

    We have links to the science to prove all of this. You can show it to doctors, pathologists, chemists, air-quality scientists, anybody who has NO skin in nicotine, and they will verify it if they have time to really look at it.  Check out casaa.org.

    What I really find frightening about your article is that you are going to judge the science by WHO is talking rather than what the science shows. This is completely opposite to the Democratic principle of "Science before ideology" that our President espouses.

    The ALA, CTFK, et al have a LOT of skin in nicotine. The American Lung Association lists their campaign to keep kids from nicotine has higher priority than...surprise...Lungs. You will also likely find that funding for that fast-expanding program is coming from a combination of pharmaceutical company funds, whether direct or indirect, Master Settlement money, and tobacco taxes. So they should not be considered neutral anymore than vapers are.

    While it's tempting to think of those health organizations as altruistically looking out for the best interests of the public, the truth is that they are businesses. They make money and pay salaries, just like for-profit corporations. The only real difference is there are no shareholders and the nonprofits don't pay taxes. But right now, they are making buggy whips and the people we buy our vape from are making electric cars.

    I am thrilled that not all of the Democrats in your state voted against science, and I wish I could say the same for Democrats elsewhere.


    Grandmother, engineer, vaper, 40-year-smoker before that.  Obama fan.

    Ex-Democrat after 42 years as an ardent Democrat.

    Member (not an important one) of CASAA, Consumer Advocates for Smokeless Alternatives Association.

    • This is a red herring.

      No one has proposed banning e-cigarettes. They should be available for adult smokers as an alternative to tobacco. And no one is attacking science. The science is clear: 1. nicotine is an addictive drug, and 2. tobacco smoke contains carcinogens that increase the chance of lung cancer and other diseases.

      The issues are economic, sociological, and political, not scientific. The health care groups feel that the bill undercuts their efforts to reduce smoking. The tobacco industry sees e-cigarettes as a way to make money from nicotine addicts as the number of smokers declines, and maybe introduce more people to the joys of nicotine addiction.

      Is making e-cigarettes more affordable and allowing their use in public places in the public interest?

      • Out-of-date on one point, unrelated on point 2.

        Years and years of official research shows that nobody switches from nicotine to smoking.   That is why the FDA is now allowing the warning labels wrt long-term use to be removed from patches, lozenges, and the like.

        Like caffeine (which IS marketed AND sold to kids!) it is a little habit-forming but they've extensive studies show nicotine taken alone does NOT addict.  It is the "smoke cocktail" that is addicting.

        And your point re #2?  What does smoke inhalation damage have to do with ecigs?  NOTHING! It's like saying many Americans are killed by lightning each year so kids should not be allowed to drink orange juice.  Complete non-sequitur.

        Even the CDC data shows that ecigs are a gateway OUT of smoking, even for kids.  That data came in a week or two after their 'gateway' speculation and the Democratic appointees decided it wasn't important to adjust their statements to match the CDC's OWN science.

        Treating e-cigs legally and socially like smoke inhalation sends the message that smoking is as safe as vaping.  That is a deadly message.

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