Kansas lawmakers are considering a resolution that would require state health officials to conduct a study about the health effects of smokeless tobacco, potentially allowing the state to market smokeless tobacco as a healthier alternative to cigarette smoking.
The Federal and State Affairs Committee of Kansas' House of Representatives has been debating a measure that would require the state's Department of Health and Environment to conduct a study of the health effects of using smokeless tobacco -- commonly known as chewing tobacco -- to determine if it is safer than cigarette smoking.
One goal of the resolution is for the state health department to ultimately make a recommendation to the legislature as to whether Kansas should promote smokeless tobacco over cigarette smoking. The Kansas proposal follows the passage of recent similar resolutions in Nebraska, Indiana and Kentucky -- all backed by R.J. Reynolds.
Richard J. Smith, a spokesman for R.J. Reynolds, confirmed that his company has been encouraging the state-based studies. Such studies are in keeping with the company's "tobacco harm reduction" strategy, he told HuffPost. R.J. Reynolds has found scientific evidence showing that chewing tobacco does not pose the same health risks as cigarette smoking, he said.
"We believe that tobacco products should be regulated in a manner that achieves health," Smith said.
To handle the lobbying in Topeka the tobacco company has hired to the Republican-leaning Hein law firm, which is headed by former Sen. Ronald Hein of Kansas and his wife Julie; their son, Derek, is involved with the main lobbying for the measure. Both Ron and Julie Hein have co-chaired the Kansas chapter of the American Legislative Exchange Council. Ron and Derek Hein declined to comment on the measure, referring all questions to R.J. Reynolds.
The committee is scheduled to debate the measure on Tuesday or Wednesday.
There is support for the measure in the committee, resolution opponents said.
"R.J. Reynolds is the force behind it," said Chris Masoner, the chief Kansas lobbyist for the American Cancer Society. "There are several members of the committee receptive to the idea, which boggles my mind, but maybe it shouldn't."
The cancer society opposes the measure, citing concern about smokeless tobacco's potential cancer link, including a risk for oral cancer, Masoner said. State public health officials should not conduct research for an industry, he said. Supporters of the measure have said the study would not cost additional taxpayer funds.
"We don't need to encourage people to trade one carcinogen for another," Masoner said.
The resolution is being sponsored by the committee and not an individual legislator but has attracted bipartisan interest. House Minority Leader Paul Davis (D-Lawrence) said he helped devise the final wording, calling for a study first instead of an outright legislative declaration in favor of smokeless tobacco. He was first approached about the resolution by Hein, Davis said.
"I don't know the conclusion, but it is worth it for the Department of Health and Environment to look into," Davis said.
Jeff Stier, a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research who has promoted smokeless tobacco as an alternative, said that state governments should investigate the issue. While oral cancer risks remain, they are diminished, according to the research he has studied, Stier said.
While Davis is open to having a study, his caucus isn't united behind him.
State Rep. Sean Gatewood (D-Topeka), a member of the committee, said he is concerned that the measure could encourage teens to start chewing tobacco. "I don't see an incentive in doing this," Gatewood told HuffPost. "My largest objection is that if there is a reduced risk, what is the state going to do? Are we going to encourage people to switch to chew?"
Citing 28 carcinogens, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states on its website, "Smokeless tobacco is not a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes," and "Smokeless tobacco use can cause cancer, oral health problems, and nicotine addiction." Snuff as well as chewing tobacco is considered smokeless tobacco.