The Norman Transcript

State/Region

April 22, 2013

Fight over e-cigarettes heats up at Okla. Capitol

(Continued)

OKLAHOMA CITY —

“We want to be the furthest thing away from being a tobacco product. Just because we’re a nicotine-derived product doesn’t mean we’re a tobacco product,” Durst said. “If I’m defined as a tobacco product, then now I have to go and buy a tobacco retail license, a tobacco wholesale license and a manufacturer’s license, because we manufacture our own liquid.”

Defining e-cigarettes as tobacco products also would shift how they are taxed — from a sales tax to an excise tax.

The final version of the bill is expected to be hammered out in a conference committee, and Durst and other members of the Oklahoma Vapors Advocacy League, or OVAL, have retained their own high-powered lobbyist to help fight Johnson’s effort. The vapor industry doesn’t oppose the youth-access language, but is mostly concerned by the attempt to define the products and change how they’re taxed.

But Johnson, who is the top recipient of tobacco-lobbyist money in Oklahoma, according to tobaccomoney.com, said the classification of vapor products as tobacco products is expected by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and that he’s trying to get a favorable tax structure put in place before that happens.

“The federal government is going to call these tobacco products. I’m not real good on waiting to see what the federal government is going to do and dictating to our state what we have to do,” Johnson said. “What I don’t want is for them to rule these as tobacco products, and then the Tax Commission has the ability to unilaterally tax them at a higher rate. I think we should be proactive and define what they should be taxed at, and then tax them lower, because they aren’t as harmful as other tobacco products.”

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