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Consumer News Release

For immediate release -- Tuesday, January 16, 2001.
Contact Bob Brammer -- 515-281-6699.

Miller Proposes New Tobacco Laws

The measures focus on reducing sales to and use by young Iowans.

DES MOINES-- Attorney General Tom Miller announced a series of proposals to improve Iowa laws relating to the sale, advertising and regulation of tobacco products in Iowa.

"Our constant goal is to reduce the number of young people who become addicted to nicotine, and to reduce the tobacco-related death and disease that plague Iowans of all ages," Miller said. "A thousand kids take up tobacco every month in Iowa, and five thousand Iowans die premature deaths each year because of tobacco. We must and we can reduce that costly death toll."

Miller made several tobacco-related legislative proposals:

  • Appropriate at least $9.3 million for Iowa tobacco prevention and control programs. "I strongly support appropriating at least as much next year as we are using now," Miller said. The Legislature appropriated about $9.3 million for the current year. Iowa is slated to receive about $54 million from the tobacco industry that can be designated by the Governor and Legislature for various programs next year.
  • Ban tobacco sales that are not face to face. "Retailers in over-the-counter transactions can make a realistic judgment about a person's age and can check IDs," Miller said. "Sales by fax, phone, mail or the Internet offer little protection against selling this lethal product to children. We should prohibit such sales."
  • Ban outdoor advertising within 1000 feet of schools and playgrounds. "We banned Joe Camel and most advertising aimed directly at kids, but this is a loophole we should close," Miller said. "Kids should be able to play and attend school without being subjected to tobacco advertising." He noted that Des Moines and Marshalltown have adopted ordinances with advertising restrictions, and he said such restrictions should be in force statewide.
  • Restrict point-of-sale advertising to black text on white background. "We banned billboards, but tobacco advertising that affects kids has moved indoors," Miller said. "Colorful and eye-catching tobacco promotions often are placed at child's eye level in stores. We should follow the determination of the FDA that such ads should be restricted to black and white text, so adults get the information they need without the ads appealing to kids."
  • Remove any obstacles to local expansion of the State's Clean Indoor Air Act (Ch. 142B) or ordinances regulating other aspects of tobacco (Ch. 453A.) "We take the position that localities have such authority and are not preempted by state statutes, but we should clarify that in the interest of avoiding unnecessary litigation and waste of resources," Miller said. "The Legislature should remove any issue that cities and counties have authority to extend clean air protection to places not now covered by State law." Various local jurisdictions are exploring steps to protect children, employees and others from the ill-effects of second-hand smoke.
  • Require that only "fire-safe" cigarettes be sold in Iowa. "Tobacco companies should be required to make cigarettes less prone to continuous burning even when they are unattended," Miller said. "Why? Because they cause fires in Iowa that kill people, cause injuries, and cost millions of dollars in damage every year." Miller noted that New York State is taking steps to require fire-safety standards for cigarettes - which reportedly have been engineered to keep burning even after being set down or dropped, so smokers don't have to relight cigarettes that go out.
  • Establish a statewide licensing system for tobacco sellers. Miller said: "We need to modernize and improve our current system, under which cities and counties are responsible for issuing cigarette permits, collecting the permit fees, and taking action against permit-holders for legal violations such as sales to minors. I urge the Legislature to adopt a statewide licensing structure much like we have now for alcohol retailers. We should do this in a way that relieves the burden on localities and leads to more uniform enforcement."
  • Allow localities to collect adequate fees and fines to support local enforcement efforts (if a statewide licensing system is not established.) Permit fees (which are retained by the permit-issuing city or county) must be raised from their 1921 levels of $50 to $100 a year, Miller said. "We need to support cities and counties whose administrative and enforcement duties have expanded dramatically," he said. Local jurisdictions should be expressly granted the authority to extend the civil penalty to repeat violators, and/or assess costs associated with such enforcement actions, he said. (Current law requires a cigarette permit-holder to pay a $300 civil penalty for the first offense; it imposes increasing periods of permit suspension or revocation for subsequent offenses but does not provide for additional financial penalties.)

Miller said Iowa's program to reduce the human and financial costs of tobacco is underway in the start-up phase.

Miller was joined at the news conference by Dr. Stephen Gleason - head of the Iowa Department of Public Health, which is overseeing most of the State's tobacco program. They said Iowa's program has three main elements - enforcement, "community partnerships," and a "counter-marketing" media program aimed primarily at convincing young Iowans not to take up tobacco. Cathy Callaway heads up the tobacco project of the Public Health Department.

Miller said successful youth-related projects have been conducted, and contracts have been approved to develop the counter-marketing effort. He said enforcement efforts organized by the Alcoholic Beverages Division and Administrator Lynn Walding already have high visibility - with agents and contracts in place and sales compliance checks already being made in cooperation with local authorities in Cedar Rapids, West Des Moines and elsewhere, and at the Iowa State Fair. In addition, the Division conducted retail training and town hall meetings to inform retailers and the public about Iowa's new comprehensive tobacco initiative.

Miller noted that compliance checks last summer and fall showed that retailers sold tobacco to under-age youth 29 percent of the time. "It's great that the figure showed improvement and came in under the Federal Synar requirement, but it's terrible that illegal sales are made that often," Miller said. "We have to do better." Millions of dollars in federal substance abuse funds hinge on meeting Synar compliance requirements. Illegal tobacco sales to minors had to be under 31 percent for 2000, and must be under 28 percent for 2001, and under 20 percent for 2002.

Miller urged the Legislature to maintain funding for the State's tobacco program at least at current levels.

"This is a huge undertaking, and the stakes are very high," he said. "Nothing less than the physical and financial health of our people and State are at stake."

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