House tentatively approves tobacco tax tweak for doctor program

After debate and parliamentary maneuvering that lasted longer than an hour and a half, the House tonight tentatively approved raising taxes on certain smokeless tobacco to expand programs that repay doctors’ medical school loans.

Smokeless tobacco is now taxed by price; under the measure, it would be taxed instead by weight. Doctors would be eligible for the funds by agreeing to work in underserved areas.

State Rep. Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, had proposed a similar tax change for loan repayments, but his House Bill 1876 hasn’t made it to the House floor. So State Rep. Sylvester Turner, D-Houston, tacked the tobacco funding mechanism onto a loan repayment bill, House Bill 2154, by Rep. Al Edwards, D-Houston.

Tweaking the smokeless tobacco tax has been attempted for several sessions.

A lobbyist for Conwood, a Reynolds American company and maker of the smokeless tobacco brand Grizzly, has said he’s against the tax change because brands such as Grizzly would see a bigger tax increase than more expensive brands, such as Copenhagen since taxes are now lower for cheaper products. Meanwhile, a spokesman for Altria, the parent company of U.S. Smokeless Tobacco, has said his company supports weight-based taxation; he said it’s not fair that now, Texas taxes products at different rates even if they’re the same size.

State Rep. Mark Homer, D-Paris, argued tonight that it wasn’t right to tuck a tobacco fight into the loan repayment bill.

“This is a market share battle, folks,” – Homer said.

But Turner argued that the measure was a good way to get doctors to shortage areas.

There are 114 Texas counties that do not meet the national standard of 1 physician per 3,500 people, according to the Texas Academy of Family Physicians.

Unlike Chisum’s measure, which would have provided loan repayments for a variety of health care providers, the measure approved applies only to doctors. Also, Chisum’s proposal sent some money to Federally Qualified Health Centers; the measure approved does not.

The measure needs a final vote from the House before it would go to the Senate.

Similar Posts:

If you enjoyed this post, make sure you subscribe to my RSS feed!