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Coalition Denounces Legislation

March 20, 1996
By: Emily Goodin
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - It all began five years ago in California.

A bill was proposed in the California State Assembly that would prohibit any local activity in the regulation of tobacco.

The bill failed but it was the beginning of a national campaign by the tobacco industry. A campaign that would prevent local communities from passing their own laws regulating youth access to tobacco products, claims The Coalition on Smoking OR Health.

The Coalition, consisting of the American Lung Association, American Heart Association, and American Cancer Society, is basing their claim on a June 28, 1991 memo from Smokeless Tobacco Council, Inc. The memo was a reaction to the events in California.

Smokeless Tobacco was not available for comment.

The Coalition said Missouri is one of a dozen states being targeted by the tobacco industry this year to pass "preemption" legislation.

Preemption legislation is a state or federal law restricting lower governmental jurisdictions, like a city council, from enacting or enforcing their own ordinances. In this case, the legislation would prohibit any local activity for the regulation of tobacco and communities would have to follow the state law.

There are two bills currently before the Missouri General Assembly that the Coalition considers preemption legislation.

The bills would create a Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control, which would leave regulation up to state-hired inspectors. The inspectors would be paid through a new licensing fee required by the bills.

"The architect of this legislation is the tobacco industry," said Wally Richter of the Missouri Coalition on Smoking OR Health.

But Sen. William McKenna, D-Barnhart, said he sponsored the bill because the convenience store industry asked him to, not the tobacco industry.

Even though members said the bill had its good points, their main argument against it was the lack of local control.

"Local government can do a better job of regulating and the tobacco industry knows it," said Rep. Craig Hosmer, D-Springfield.

Peter Fisher, administrator for state issues for the Coalition, said that the tobacco industry can't use their power on a local level.

"They prefer to work on a state level or federal level, where their power works more for them," Fisher said.