Here is how state legislators representing this area responded to the American Lung Association’s 2014 State of Tobacco Control report.
While Pennsylvania made some progress in protecting citizens from tobacco-caused diseases such as lung cancer through prevention and cessation initiatives, “leaders in Pennsylvania must close the loopholes in the clean indoor air law, … they must step up to provide more smokers with the support they need to quit, and they must adequately fund prevention programs that help keep our kids off tobacco,” said Deb Brown, CEO of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic.
Each legislator was asked whether they would support increased funding for tobacco control, increasing the cigarette tax, taxing cigars and smokeless tobacco, removing exemptions from the Clean Indoor Air Act and requiring state insurers to cover smoking-cessation programs.
Sen. John Yudichak
Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, noted he supported the Clean Indoor Air Act and one of the first pieces of legislation he introduced as a state representative banned adults from smoking and using smokeless tobacco on school buses.
Yudichak supports “investing more, particularly in education programs,” but investing the $155 million recommended by the Centers for Disease Control “is a challenge when you’re looking at a $1 billion deficit. Could we do more? Certainly.”
Increasing the tobacco tax is something the Democratic Caucus put forward and something he supports. As for taxing cigars, “the problem is: what is the tax going to be and where is the money going to go?” Yudichak said, adding it would be “premature” to say whether he would support such a tax in general.
He would support removing exemptions for smoking in casinos and some bars from the Clean Indoor Air Act, but he would draw the line at private clubs. And, he said, it’s “smart policy” for insurance companies to include smoking-cessation in health insurance policies.
Rep. Mike Carroll
Carroll, D-Avoca, said Pennsylvania “shouldn’t be in the boat we’re in” regarding the loss of funding from the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement. “If we had proper taxation on roll-your-own cigarettes, we wouldn’t be,” he said.
Carroll would support a tax on roll-your-own cigarettes (loose tobacco and rolling papers) so that it’s consistent with the tobacco settlement, and on smokeless tobacco if revenue went to anti-smoking programs. He’s “less convinced” about supporting a cigar tax because several of his constituents from the Pittston area work in a cigar factory in Scranton.
He said he voted against all exemptions to the Clean Indoor Air Act. “I came to the conclusion it should apply to everybody,” and he still feels that way, he said.
Carroll is unsure how the federal Affordable Care Act would affect any insurance requirements for smoking cessation. He would want to check to make sure such a requirement would not make policies unaffordable.
Rep. Jerry Mullery
Mullery, D-Newport Township, would support additional funding for tobacco control “provided that it comes from the tobacco settlement funding. Unfortunately, (Gov. Tom Corbett’s) administration is using it for other things, such as pension obligations.”
Mullery does not support increasing any taxes, including on cigarettes, nor creating new taxes, including taxes on cigars or smokeless tobacco.
Mullery said he is a co-sponsor of state House Bill 1485, which would remove all exemptions from the Clean Indoor Air Act, as well as give municipalities the right to pass even more restrictive anti-smoking laws. And he would “absolutely” support requiring insurers to offer smoking-cessation coverage for all policies.
“This issue is personal to me. My mother died of lung cancer in December 2012. She was a heavy smoker. I tried to convince her many times over the years to quit. If the state had more money dedicated to smoking cessation, maybe she would still be here,” Mullery said.
Rep. Phyllis Mundy
Mundy, D-Kingston, noted Gov. Corbett “proposed diversion of tobacco settlement funds to purposes other than what was intended. His proposed budget reflects a one-time transfer of $225 million from the Tobacco Settlement Fund to pay for state pensions. I do not support such a transfer.”
As for raising the cigarette tax, “already-high cigarette taxes are causing smokers to turn to roll-your-own cigarettes, which we do not tax, so I think we are maxed out on raising the cigarette tax even further. I fear that we would drive cigarette sales to the black market if we haven’t done so already,” Mundy said.
She would support a tax on cigars and other tobacco products such as smokeless tobacco. “It is very unfair that we tax cigarettes at such a high level and then fail to tax cigars and other tobacco products at all,” she said.
She would remove all exemptions from the Clean Indoor Air Act, except for private businesses or clubs established for the benefit of smokers. As for insurers covering smoking cessation, she “would prefer that the tobacco settlement dollars be used as originally intended” and cover the cost of those programs.
Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski
Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, said he “grew up at a time when we had TV, magazine and newspaper ads that promoted cigarette smoking as being healthy and good for you. There were ashtrays everywhere, even in hospitals. We have made tremendous strides since then, but it’s not good enough.”
He wants to put “extra resources into education and prevention.” And, he believes “there needs to be negotiations with businesses (that produce) smokeless tobacco and cigars so we can come up with a reasonable and fair tax … that (the tobacco industry) can live with.”
Pashinski said business owners “should have the right to determine what portion of their facility is completely smokeless. There should be a certain amount of independence and freedom. If you are happy in that environment, so be it.” He said anyone concerned about second-hand smoke can “choose a smokeless facility,” including potential employees.
“If you don’t like working in hard, cold, damp, wet, dangerous sites, you don’t get a job digging holes for the water company in the winter. In certain places, some folks don’t have that choice. So it’s up for discussion and it’s why we have hearings, to adapt laws to certain situations … to make them more fair,” Pashinski said.
He would need to review statistics and data before deciding whether insurance companies should be required to provide smoking cessation coverage for all policies.
Rep. Tarah Toohil
Toohil, R-Butler Township, said smoking negatively impacts many children in Pennsylvania. She has proposed a bill to ban smoking in cars with children present, noting that similar laws have been passed in Arkansas, California, Louisiana, Maine, Oregon, Puerto Rico and Utah.
Toohil also proposed a bill to ban smoking in state correctional facilities and county prisons, an issue brought to her attention by prison employees. And, she said, smoker-cessation programs should be made more accessible to smokers, especially pregnant women.
Toohil believes more funding should be dedicated to smoking prevention/cessation programs. She supports increasing the cigarette tax, but as for taxing cigars, she said sales and Internet companies have come to Pennsylvania “because of the relief granted to the cigar industry,” and she’s concerned for the jobs of those employed in that industry.
Toohil is unsure about eliminating exemptions from the Clean Indoor Air Act. “This is something I have to research more,” she said. As for requiring smoking cessation coverage by Pennsylvania insurers, Toohil supports the initiative but would “have to look at the potential costs to the consumer.”
State Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, and state Rep. Karen Boback, R-Harveys Lake, did not immediately respond to requests for comment for this story.