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Reagan’s tobacco bill: A case of persistence and compromise

Sen. Michele Reagan (File photo)

Sen. Michele Reagan (File photo)

One bill signed into law this session is a textbook example of persistence, compromise, and how legislation sometimes ends up not too far from what it intended in the first place.

Early in the session, Sen. Michele Reagan, R-Scottsdale, introduced a bill that aimed to increase the penalty for minors who use a fake ID to purchase tobacco products and prohibit the manufacture of “blunt wraps,” which are intended to be used by consumers to roll their own tobacco cigars, but also can be filled with marijuana instead.

Gov. Jan Brewer signed the bill into law on April 29 – but not before it was watered down, initially killed in the Senate, revived, and then amended again the House. The final version no longer contained provisions dealing with blunt wraps.

And instead of instead of a Class 3 felony, minors who present a fake ID in purchasing tobacco products face a petty offense – the same penalty that’s currently in statute for minors who buy cigarettes.

The bill increased the fine to $500 from $300 for individuals under 18 who use false documents to get a cigarette.

The measure’s evolution affirms the nature of the Arizona Legislature – deliberative and wary of big and sweeping changes, preferring instead incremental movements.

But the bill survived because Reagan didn’t give up, even when the odds were stacked against her.

Actually, she thought the bill would easily sail through.

“It was funny, because I thought the blunt wrap issue was going to be fine,” Reagan said.

It turned out to be anything but.

The provision dealing with blunt wraps landed her in the middle of an ugly feud between a national group of cigar manufacturers and one of its members.

The group said the wraps were besmirching its industry because they were used for smoking marijuana. But one maker of the wraps argued that the move was protectionist and anti-competitive. One Arizona-based manufacturer also vigorously opposed the provision.

When she couldn’t get the two sides to compromise, Reagan dropped the blunt-wrap component.

But things didn’t get any easier.

Reagan’s colleagues still balked at the amended bill, and they crossed party lines to sink the proposal in February. They argued the proposed penalty for minors was too excessive, as a Class 3 misdemeanor carries up to 30 days of jail time. It is already illegal to sell tobacco products to a minor, and a minor who buys tobacco is guilty of a petty offense.

Reagan worked to revive the measure, and managed, in the end, to convince nearly the entire Senate to support the proposal. The Senate approved the measure in March.
But then Reagan found out from the Governor’s Office that the state gets some federal funding for tobacco prevention.

“Changing the bill the way it was written would have jeopardized that funding,” Reagan said. “(So), we took it as far as we can without jeopardizing that funding.”

So, legislators lessened the penalty back to a petty offense in the House but increased the existing fine.

The Legislature then sent the bill to Brewer’s desk – on the last day of session.

“I didn’t get everything on this one, but that’s alright. Par for the course, right?” Reagan said.

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