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Tobacco regulation is gaining momentum in the Wyoming Legislature. How long will it last?
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Tobacco regulation is gaining momentum in the Wyoming Legislature. How long will it last?

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Cigarette tax

A smoker ashes his cigarette at TJ’s Bar & Grill in Casper in 2015. The Wyoming Legislature is considering multiple new regulations tied to smoking.

CHEYENNE – Since President Donald Trump raised the minimum age to purchase tobacco to 21 years this past winter, states have begun contemplating other means of increasing regulations on products like cigarettes, vaporizers and cigars within their own borders.

Wyoming is not least among them.

From bills considering limitations – to an outright ban – on mail-order tobacco products to legislation imposing penalties for tobacco sales to individuals under 21 years of age, the Wyoming Legislature is anticipated to be seriously weighing a number of new regulations on the tobacco industry.

Legislation to raise the minimum purchase age for nicotine products, for example, arrived in the Capitol with a broad coalition of supporters that include the tobacco industry, while legislation examining outright bans on mail-order tobacco products easily passed the two-thirds voting threshold needed for introduction in the Senate.

Meanwhile, two taxes on nicotine products – one on e-cigarettes, another imposing $1.50 on a pack of cigarettes – could potentially receive play this year, marking one of the most significant years for tobacco regulation in recent memory.

Lawmakers consider ways to reduce youth e-cigarette use, including new tax

However successful each of those bills will be, however, remains up to lawmakers. While increased regulation on tobacco is supported by industry and lawmakers alike, the prospect of new taxes could remain a heavy lift among state lawmakers. The recent – albeit surprising — support for regulation, said Senate Revenue Committee Chairman Cale Case, R-Lander, could potentially mean some willingness to compromise.

“I think people are ready to put a tax on vaping products, but at a lesser amount than the tobacco products,” he said.

Other legislation – like a bill to increase taxes on a pack of cigarettes by $1.50 announced by Rep. Sara Burlingame, D-Cheyenne this week – could face taller hurdles, even as they’ve been pitched as a means to offset the high health care costs driven by the litany of health problems tied to smoking. Meanwhile, Wyoming’s tobacco taxes remain well-below the national average, with the latest increase bringing Wyoming’s tax rate to just 31 cents below the national average.

Jason Mincer, the Wyoming government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, says his organization also sees taxes as one of the best deterrents to preventing underage smoking, arguing that raising taxes on cigarettes could potentially reduce the rate of underage smoking by roughly 16 percent while simultaneously reducing the number of adult smokers by 5,000 people, according to 2019 estimates by the American Cancer Society.

While the minimum age provision could potentially throw a wrench in arguments around tobacco taxes as a deterrent to smoking for young people, Mincer said the legislation could help to offset a large portion of the approximately $258 million in public health expenses connected to tobacco use.

Anything to cut those costs, he feels, could help make the case for the legislation on its own.

“With the revenue situation the state is in, we really see this as a good fit right now,” Mincer said in an interview Tuesday.

The deadline for individual bills to be introduced in their house of origin is Friday.

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Politics Reporter

Nick Reynolds covers state politics and policy. A native of Central New York, he has spent his career covering governments big and small, and several Congressional campaigns. He graduated from the State University of New York at Brockport in 2015.

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