Tag Archives: smoking

House sub snubs raising legal age for smoking

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — An effort to raise Tennessee’s smoking age from 18 to 21 has been defeated in the state House.

The bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Bob Ramsey of Maryville (HB1978) failed to receive a motion in the House Agriculture Committee on Tuesday.

Ramsey, who worked on his family’s tobacco farm growing up, has said he introduced the bill over health concerns for Tennesseans.

Legislative analysts had projected that the measure would cost state and local governments about $10 million in lost revenue a year once fully implemented.

Tennessee’s tax on each pack of cigarettes was raised from 20 cents to 62 cents in 2007.

Hawaii is the only state that bans teenagers from smoking, but California lawmakers last week passed legislation to follow suit. That bill is awaiting the governor’s signature.

Legislators Skeptical of Haslam’s ‘Health and Wellness Initiative’

Some legislators voiced skepticism about a $72.4 million “health and wellness initiative,” a portion of Gov. Bill Haslam’s budget that was reviewed in full for the first time on Tuesday.
The plan includes $43 million for an anti-smoking and anti-obsesity efforts. Most of that will go to programs targeting teenagers, pregnant women and women with infant children.
About $5 million goes to the obesity program with officials saying they hope to enhance the state money with $20 million to $27 million in private sector donations.
The administration is also counting $24 million for converting the University of Tennessee’s coal-fired steam plant to use natural gas as part of the “health and wellness initiative.”
The project was announced earlier as part of Haslam’s original budget proposal in February. The original proposal was altered somewhat with an amendment outlined Tuesday to the House and Senate Finance Committees.
The coal plant conversion money comes from tobacco company payments being made to the state to resolve lawsuits. Rep. Gary Odom, D-Nashville, questioned the conversion being part of a “health and wellness initiative” as well as involving tobacco money.
“I don’t see the relationship,” he said. “That’s a third of the tobacco settlement money (available to the state next year).”
“The logic behind that is that particular plant in Knoxville is one of the biggest air polluters in the region,” replied Health Commissioner John Dreyzehner, who outlined the initiative to the House Finance Committee with Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes.
The anti-smoking efforts were questioned by House Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, and House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga.
“That’s a lot of money and a lot of marketing,” said McCormick, suggesting the state has “some more immediate needs.” He also questioned whether it is necessary to explain the dangers of smoking, when most people are already aware of that – including smokers.
Sargent noted the state had allocated $10 million to an anti-smoking campaign in 2007 and added another $5 million two years later. He questioned whether that expenditure had done anything to reduce smoking among Tennesseans.
Dreyzehner said about 23 percent of Tennesseans smoke, according to most recent statistics, and “the needle has been moving down.” That indicates some anti-smoking efforts have been successful, he said, even though Tennessee’s spending on such programs has lagged far behind other states.
The new initiative will have long-term effect in reducing state spending on health care, he predicted, since it targets teenagers and mothers of small children.

News Notes on TN Legislative Ideas as the 2013 Session Gets Underway

Local Option Gas Tax?
Tri-Cities officials are asking area state legislators to authorize a local option gas tax of up to five cents per gallon as a means to improve roads, reports the Bristol Herald Courier.
Friday’s annual wish list presentation from Bristol, Kingsport and Johnson City leaders to representatives and senators headed to Nashville… includes a variety of policy objectives, but the gas tax was an eye-opener to one Bristol lawmaker.
“I just can’t see that working in today’s current economic environment,” said State Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, one of the lawmakers at the meeting at the Millennium Centre.
“We are a pay as you go state when it comes to roads and bridges and so far, that has worked, so I can’t see a tax increase going anywhere fast.”
Kingsport Mayor Dennis Phillips handled the transportation segment of the presentations given to legislators and said the consensus of the three-city committee was to have a gas tax option ready to use for an ever-growing list of road construction needs.
“If we are not going to raise taxes or sell bonds somewhere down the road (to improve roads), we are going to have a big problem,” Phillips said. “I think this is really the year to look seriously at that local option so that we can get some help. I personally feel that if there was (no press coverage) and you raised taxes five cents on gasoline no one would know it. Three weeks ago, gas went up 13 cents in one day. The way prices are fluctuating, I think we are missing a prime opportunity not to address that option.”

Insurance Coverage for Oral Chemotherapy?
Tennessee’s cancer-fighting advocates want to hang onto funding for screening and smoking cessation, do a better job educating residents and – after a crushing defeat on this last year – force insurers to cover oral chemotherapy at the same rate as intravenous treatments, reports The Tennessean.
What’s not on their list is raising the cigarette tax, the nation’s sixth-lowest, an effort shown to discourage smoking, raise revenue and, ultimately, save on healthcare costs. That effort failed last year too, said Nancy Hauskins DuBois, an advocacy specialist for the American Cancer Society, so her group is putting it on snooze and waiting for a better time.
…Tennessee is making slight gains against the nation in its cancer fight, moving from fifth in the nation for deaths three years ago to sixth today, U.S. Centers for Disease and Prevention statistics show.
At the same time, it moved from 22nd to 16th for diagnosed incidents of cancer, but that’s not a bad thing, said Dr. Ingrid M. Meszoely, a Vanderbilt University surgeon and co-chair of the Tennessee Cancer Coalition.

Elect Utility District Boards?
Most utility district boards in Tennessee are appointed by county mayors or other local officials, but a dispute over the DeKalb Utility District’s expansion plans has triggered a call for having the boards elected by ratepayers, reports The Tennessean.
But efforts allowing ratepayers to elect utility board members elsewhere in Tennessee have failed in the General Assembly, in part because of opposition from a powerful association representing rural utilities, the Tennessee Association of Utility Districts (TAUD).
Some lawmakers hope to try again this year.
“The customers of the utility districts have no say in who is on their board,” said state Sen. Joey Hensley, R-Hohenwald. “The board controls the rates, controls a lot of issues.”
As a House member for the past decade, Hensley has sponsored legislation allowing direct elections of utility commissioners in Lawrence County. Those efforts have failed. But Hensley, elected to the Senate in November, said he’ll try again this year.
The issue of direct elections for Tennessee’s 180 utility districts, many in rural areas, would add accountability to the boards and better protect ratepayers, say advocates for the change.

Bill Limits Spur Knox Discussion
The Knox County legislative delegation is weighing the impact of state Speaker Beth Harwell’s move to impose limits on bill introductions, with one new House member reporting he’s already being contacted by lobbyists on the matter, reports Georgiana Vines.
Roger Kane, the Republican elected in November to the new 89th District in Northwest Knox County, said four lobbyists have contacted him about sponsoring legislation and one wants him to sponsor two bills.
If Harwell’s 10-bill limit proposal were to be adopted, “that would be half my slots,” he said. “In principle, it sounds good,” he said. “It has caused some things to change. Typically, freshmen were given some ramp-up time. (Now) the freshmen have become of a little more value.”
However, he said he doesn’t want constituencies to be without an opportunity to have bills introduced late in the session, so he hasn’t yet “developed an opinion” on Harwell’s proposal.
Rep. Bill Dunn, a Republican who represents the 16th District, said he has favored limiting bills for several years. He said he has discussed with Harwell having a limit of seven “active” bills at any one time, and if one passes or fails, then another could be introduced.
“What the speaker is doing is a step in the right direction,” he said.
State Rep. Harry Brooks, a Republican representing the 19th District, and Rep. Joe Armstrong, a Democrat representing the 15th District, said some legislators may already have commitments that end up surpassing 10 bills.
“Put the rule in, but make it effective for a second session and here on out,” Armstrong said.

TennCare Now Covers Cost of Quitting Smoking

TennCare now pays to help its patients quit smoking — a change that became effective Friday, reports The Tennessean.
The state’s Medicaid program will cover over-the-counter products, such as nicotine gum and patches, as well as prescription medicines. Health workers welcomed the new policy, which was approved and funded this year by the legislature.
Besides improving people’s health, the coverage change is anticipated to save the state money. Lung cancer patients struggle with quitting even after undergoing surgery and other treatments, said Dr. Mathew Ninan, a thoracic oncologist at The Sarah Cannon Cancer Center at Centennial Medical Center.
(A TennCare news release on the matter is posted below)
“If I save one patient from having bad pneumonia and lying in bed for 20 days, that’s hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Ninan said.

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MTSU Becomes Tobacco-Free Campus

MTSU is joining other institutions across the state and nation in establishing a tobacco-free policy that will restrict the use of all forms of tobacco on its property, reports the Daily News Journal.
It’s a mandate not everyone is happy about. Megan Richter, an MTSU junior from Fayetteville who minors in art, said the change will be “hard on art students,” in particular.
“They put in long hours. They are up so long (because) they have to wait on things to dry,” she said. “They’ve got three-hour studios. People smoke.” Richter has been smoking since high school. “I enjoy the act of smoking; holding a cigarette,” she said.
Instead of more tobacco campus restrictions, Richter prefers more smoking spots outdoors on campus or for existing ash trays to be relocated.
MTSU President Sidney McPhee, in an online statement to the MTSU community, said the current policy allows smoking outdoors, 20 feet away from doorways, windows, ventilation, systems, walkways and gates. But the new restrictions will ban tobacco use regardless of whether you are inside or outside a campus building.