Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


ALEC seeks lower taxes for smokeless tobacco products marketed to teens, ‘tweens

Snus, tea-bag-like packets that users suck on, are among the most popular smokeless tobacco products.

At their meeting last week in Salt Lake City, members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) attended a workshop entitled, “Can Tobacco Cure Smoking?” conducted by Dr. Brad Rodu, chair of tobacco harm reduction research at the University of Louisville.

Rodu, a dentist by training, has conducted research suggesting that steering tobacco users to smokeless tobacco is a “free-market” means of reducing the rate of smoking-related diseases. His program is largely funded by the U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co., an ALEC member and manufacturer of Copenhagen and Skoal, among other brands.

ALEC bills itself as an educational organization. Its corporate and ideological members pay tens of thousands of dollars to join. Lawmakers pay $50 a year and are eligible for scholarships to underwrite the cost of traveling, often with their families, to frequent meetings at ritzy destinations.

There, the elected officials are given model legislation to take home and introduce in their statehouses. Over the course of the last two years, some 60 pieces of ALEC-like legislation have been introduced in Minnesota, including a bill very much like the one Rodu’s workshop promoted.

More attractive to youth

In 2011, three Minnesota Republicans introduced a bill that would lower taxes on smokeless tobacco. Cigarettes are taxed by the pack. The bill would have made smokeless tobacco cheaper, and thus more attractive to teens and ‘tweens, by taxing it by weight instead.

Authored by Reps. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville; Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove; and Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, Minnesota House File 1079 died after a first reading. Of the three, Zellers is the only one known to have ties to ALEC.

The ALEC model bill — entitled “Resolution on the Enhancement of Economic Neutrality, Commercial Efficiency, and Fairness in the Taxation of Moist Smokeless Tobacco (MST) Products” — fared better in Wisconsin, where lawmakers got a letter in support from ALEC. Gov. Scott Walker, the guiding force behind other ALEC proposals, such as right to work, shoot-first and voter ID legislation, vetoed it.

If the new taxing system applied only to old-fashioned chewing tobacco, it’s hard to imagine the push would be as hard. But the days where smokeless tobacco meant a squat puck containing unpalatable dip or snuff are long over.

Nicotine in candy flavors

These days, nicotine delivery systems are much more appealing to youth and much more likely to escape adult attention.  There are mints that look like Tic Tacs packaged in tins made to resemble Altoids, candy-flavored blunts that look like fruit leather and gum. Most popular are “snus,” tea-bag-like packets kids suck on.

Most are classified as “moist tobacco,” the product on which the model legislation would lower taxes.

Reached by phone last week, Loon said ALEC had nothing to do with her authorship of the bill, which she said she misunderstood and would not support going forward.

“I was visited by someone who represents one or more brands of smokeless tobacco because of the way the tax law is structured around them,” she said.

She was under the impression she was singled out, she added, because of her earlier support for the “little cigar bill,” an effort to raise taxes on the aforementioned candy-flavored blunts. She supported that legislation both in the interest of tax parity and to make the cigars, which appear identical to cigarettes but are slightly different in ways that mean they are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Loon: ‘I absolutely would not support’

“I absolutely would not support promoting smokeless tobacco as an alternative to cigarettes,” said Loon. “I would not be active on that legislation in the future.”

Will other Minnesota lawmakers revive the effort? The subject of a flurry of critical headlines in recent months, ALEC took the new step of not sending members the agenda for last week’s meeting in advance, nor did it publicize the names of members in either the private sector or public office who were expected to attend.

Activists from the left-leaning Madison, Wis.-based Center for Media and Democracy — one of the groups that has done the most to document ALEC’s activities — spent last week in Salt Lake City piecing together the agenda.

From its report: “Other workshops include ‘Municipal Pension Reform’ and ‘Using Non-Addictive Medication in Alternatives to Incarceration,’ and one titled ‘Regulation Without Representation,’ warning of how the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ‘has taken on an ardent regulatory agenda that threatens the representative nature of our government.’

“Legislators will also sit alongside corporate lobbyists on ALEC’s task forces to amend and vote on ‘model’ legislation. The Commerce, Insurance, and Economic Development Task Force, for example, will discuss topics like ‘the resurgence of right to work,’ getting rid of licensing restrictions for certain professions, and eliminating federal restrictions on states charging toll fees on roads. The Communications and Information Technology Task Force will discuss ‘the high cost to taxpayers from municipal broadband’ and the Energy, Environment, and Agriculture Task Force ‘will cover the EPA’s regulation of carbon dioxide’ as well as consider model bills like the Animal Property Protection Act and the Intrastate Coal and Use Act.”

After all that hard work, the center’s sleuths report, select lawmakers had the option of unwinding at an “invitation-only” cigar reception, hosted by one of ALEC’s major tobacco firms.

Comments (24)

  1. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/30/2012 - 09:44 am.

    “Authored” by Hollberg, Zellars and Loon…

    and Loon says she misunderstood the bill and would not support it going forward ???

    Talk about a rubber-stamp legislature !!!

    Can’t be bothered to learn what she was the “author” of before she presents the bill.

    Can’t be bothered to make a 20 second Google search:

    Side effects:

    Cancer: Smokeless tobacco users are at a heightened risk for oral cancer compared to non-users and these cancers can form within five years of regular use. Constant exposure to tobacco juice causes cancer of the esophagus, pharynx, larynx, stomach and pancreas. Spit tobacco causes leukoplakia, a disease of the mouth characterized by white patches and oral lesions on the cheeks, gums, and/or tongue. Leukoplakia, which can lead to oral cancer, occurs in more than half of all users in the first three years of use. Studies have found that 60 to 78 percent of smokeless tobacco users have oral lesions. The U.S. Surgeon General, National Toxicology Program, and the World Health Organization (WHO) recognize that using smokeless tobacco products can cause oral cancer. The National Cancer Institute
    has identified 28 carcinogens in smokeless tobacco products produced in the U.S., at levels much higher than in smokeless tobacco products from countries such as Sweden. A 2007 study in Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention found that the carcinogenic NNK levels in smokeless tobacco users were comparable to those in cigarette smokers.12 A 2007 study in The Lancet found that “use of Swedish snus should be added to the list of tentative risk factors for pancreatic cancer.” A 2008 study from the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer concluded that smokeless tobacco users have an 80
    percent higher risk of developing oral cancer and a 60 percent higher risk of developing pancreatic and esophageal cancer.

    Gum Disease: Gum disease (gingivitis) is caused by smokeless tobacco. Smokeless tobacco has also been linked to dental caries (tooth decay). A study by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found chewing tobacco users were four times more likely than non-users to have decayed dental root surfaces.

    Nicotine Addiction: Regardless of the differences between smokeless tobacco products, they all contain nicotine, a highly addictive chemical, and cause equivalent nicotine levels in the blood as smoking cigarettes. Smokeless tobacco products are as addictive as cigarettes and can cause the same type of dependence, which makes quitting smokeless tobacco very difficult. Furthermore, nicotine may factor into coronary artery disease, peripheral vascular disease, hypertension, peptic ulcer disease, and fetal effects.

    Way to go, Loon!!

    • Submitted by Terry Thomas on 07/30/2012 - 03:04 pm.

      Great Idea

      The bill should apply only to smokeless tobacco that is Swedish Snus made in Sweden. The pasteurization of Swedish Snus is what sets it far apart from regular chewing tobacco. The pasteurization process has eliminated the harmful carcinogens in the tobacco.

      A forty year study by the Swedish government has claimed that Swedish Snus is 99.9% safe. In Sweden there was a 50% drop in smoking with this product over the last forty years. There was a big report on 60 minutes about the Snus a year or so ago. Type in Swedish Snus and 60 minutes into youtube and it will come up.

      This product is a bridge to help people quit smoking.

    • Submitted by Matt Zuke on 08/01/2012 - 08:14 am.

      “smokeless tobacco users are at a heightened risk for oral cancer compared to non-users and these cancers can form within five years of regular use”

      If the risk was the same between cigarettes and smokeless tobacco, you concede smokeless tobacco is full of win. Think about it, 440,000 smoking related deaths roughly 1/3 lung cancer, 1/3 heart/lung disease, roughly 7500 attributed to oral cancers. That’s 1.7%. That would save hundreds of thousands of lives.

      But the risk isn’t equal, the risk is a good deal less with smokeless tobacco of any time. The WORST data I’ve found was on dry snuff with an RR=~4 where cigarettes are ~10.

      [Smokeless tobacco Relative Cancer Risk.]
      Esophagus: RR = 1.13 (CI = 0.95-1.36).
      Stomach: RR = 1.03 (CI = 0.88-1.20).
      Pancreas: RR = 1.07 (CI = 0.71-1.60).
      All Digestive Tract: RR = 0.86 (CI = 0.59-1.25).
      Larynx: RR = 1.34 (CI = 0.61-2.95).
      Nasal: RR = 1.14 (CI = 0.73-1.77).
      Lung: RR = 0.99 (CI = 0.71-1.37).
      Prostate: RR = 1.29 (CI = 1.07-1.55).
      Bladder: RR = 0.95 (CI = 0.71-1.29).
      Kidney: RR = 1.09 (CI = 0.62-2.94).
      All Cancers: RR = 0.98 (CI = 0.84-1.15).

      This metastudy included The Lancet reference with is pretty much the only one that shows an elevated risk of pancreatic cancer.

      The relatively low risk of smokeless tobacco is the reason that experts at the FDA consider deploying NRPs in the long term. “The lack of increase in common cancers in lifelong {Smokeless Tobacco} users indicates that nicotine is not a general cancer promoter” –Neal L Benowitz

      Even Idaho’s Project Filter had to concede there was no firm data establishing a link between smokeless tobacco use and oral health, and they’re totally opposed to smokeless tobacco. The above data is VERY Snus specific, which doesn’t use refined sugar.

      Smokeless tobacco is addictive, so for non users should avoid it. However, for smokers it would represent roughly 98% reduction in harm. To put into perspective if 420,000 people die each year from smoking, and we banned cigarettes, and 100% used smokeless tobacco, this would save 386,400 lives. After all the relative safety of Nicotine Gum is established by the century of data on life long Snus users.

      Utah has Project Reality, where heroin users are encouraged to get hooked on Methadone. Methadone is far from harmless, it will even get you high, just NOT as high so you can actually enjoy basic employment. The safety profile of nicotine is superior to that of Methadone in every way. Why can’t you accept reality, we tax cigarettes to discourage their use because they are VERY harmful, killing roughly 1% of the userbase every year. Smokers on average lose 7.8 years of life. Smokeless tobacco users according to this study published in nature lose 15 days, and this risk can be mitigated by opting for low TSNA and PAH solutions.

      Time to accept reality.

  2. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 07/30/2012 - 09:59 am.

    Your own worst enemies

    You know, if the title of this piece was ” U.S. Smokeless Tobacco Co. seeks lower taxes for smokeless tobacco products marketed to teens, ‘tweens” not only would it be less disingenuous, it might have created concern in this conservative.

    But the point really isn’t protecting kids; it’s just another attack on ALEC. (Yawn)

    I have news for you; ALEC doesn’t care what the tax rate on tobacco is any more than the NEA cares if kids can read and write. ALEC is a facilitator, they bring people together. The topics of discussion are dictated by the members, and ALEC facilitates opportunities to have them discussed.

    Raving lefties are their own worst enemies. Their myopic, slavish dedication to destroying capitalism, social norms, decency, and common sense makes them blind to the cartoonish characters they have become.

    And by the way, if Beth was really concerned about child safety, she wouldn’t be banging the drum for more pro-homosexual curriculum in schools. Every year, surveillance reports confirm that homosexual men top the list of new disease, drug abuse and mental disorders…in numbers wildly out of their proportion in the general populace.

    The fact is that if you don’t use intravenous drugs, have anal intercourse or associate with those that do, your chance of being infected with HIV is less than the proverbial lightning strike.

    If the leftist dominated media was concerned, THAT is the message they would be sending public school kids…not fairy tales about “two princes”.

    But again, the point really isn’t protecting kids, is it?

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/30/2012 - 11:06 am.

      So no worries about a legislator being an “author” of a bill (no matter where it originated), who obviously did not even bother to read and understand what was in it or what it proposed, or the possible effects of the bill??

    • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 07/30/2012 - 11:23 am.

      Speaking of wild claims . . . . .

      cites for those “surveillance reports”, please.

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/30/2012 - 12:41 pm.

      …don’t associate with those who have had anal intercourse…



      “For males, the proportion who have had anal sex with a female increases from 4.6 percent at age 15 to 34 percent at ages 22–24; for females, the proportion who have had anal sex with a male increases from 2.4 percent at age 15 to 32 percent at age 22–24.” One in three women admits to having had anal sex by age 24. By ages 25 to 44, the percentages rise to 40 for men and 35 for women. And that’s not counting the 3.7 percent of men aged 15 to 44 who’ve had anal sex with other men.

      (end quote)

      I assume that your entire being and purpose is focused on the 3.7 percent.

      But I bet this decreases the number of people you can “associate” with.

      • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 07/30/2012 - 02:48 pm.

        Thanks Neil

        For illustrating how effective the gay lobby has been in indoctrinating our public school kids. One cannot help but wonder what those numbers looked like in 1980, eh?

        Here’s the facts you have averted your eyes from (also from the CDC)

        MSM account for nearly half of the approximately 1.2 million people living with HIV in the United States (49%, or an estimated 580,000 total persons).

        MSM account for more than half of all new HIV infections in the United States each year (61%, or an estimated 29,300 infections).

        While CDC estimates that only 4 percent of men in the United States are MSM, the rate of new HIV diagnoses among MSM in the United States is more than 44 times that of other men (range: 522 – 989 per 100,000 MSM vs. 12 per 100,000 other men).

        Note: The term men who who have sex with men (MSM) is used in CDC surveillance systems. It indicates the behaviors that transmit HIV infection, not how individuals self-identify in terms of their sexuality.

        You’re not going to win this argument, Neil. The facts are too well documented.

        • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/30/2012 - 04:03 pm.

          You are sadly delusional if you think anal intercourse in heterosexual relationships was invented as a response to the “gay lobby”.

    • Submitted by Tim Walker on 07/30/2012 - 01:59 pm.

      How many straw men?

      Mr. Swift writes: “Raving lefties are their own worst enemies. Their myopic, slavish dedication to destroying capitalism, social norms, decency, and common sense makes them blind to the cartoonish characters they have become.”

      So, lefties want to destroy:

      * Capitalism
      * Social norms
      * Decency
      * Common sense

      Can I please have a ruling?

      Is that four separate straw men, or one straw man combining all four traits?

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 07/30/2012 - 04:23 pm.


        It’s search engine optimization. Frankly, I’m surprised he didn’t throw in “Angry Al Franken,” Mark Dayton’s mental health issues,” or “George Soros.” Any one of those would increase traffic, I’m sure.

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 07/30/2012 - 10:52 am.


    I’m still trying to get my head around the fact that people literally elected a Loon into public office.

  4. Submitted by Adam Miller on 07/30/2012 - 12:41 pm.

    We already have a market-based solution

    A real market based solution to smoking is Pigovian taxation, aka tobacco taxes.

    Choosing to make “smokeless” tobacco a winner over cigarettes is the exact opposite of market-based.

  5. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 07/30/2012 - 01:11 pm.

    Different tune, same song

    Sadly, Mr. Swift is unable to stay on topic, and what starts out as criticism of Ms. Hawkins’ piece – criticism without any supporting evidence – ends up a diatribe against a nonexistent “pro-homosexual curriculum” in schools (he doesn’t say which schools), and then goes on to the usual right wing attack against “leftist dominated media,” which I can only assume he watches or listens to avidly. Since the media, with few exceptions, are capitalist enterprises, it seems no surprise to me that what I encounter in the mainstream media are corporate viewpoints. Those are the “people” paying the bills.

    Mr. Rovick’s point regarding Ms. Loon is well-taken, since it takes only a few seconds to Google “smokeless tobacco” and find, not only favorable mention from the smokeless tobacco industry, but also plenty of negative information from the CDC and other health-related organizations pointing out that there are zero positive effects to smokeless tobacco use, except, of course, for its contribution to the quarterly dividend for shareholders of companies that produce smokeless tobacco.

    While Mr. Swift’s concern – it IS concern, I assume – for the health of the gay community is interesting, even laudable, Ms. Hawkins’ article isn’t about the gay community. It’s about smokeless tobacco, and efforts by ALEC and its politically reactionary allies to arrange for a product demonstrably dangerous to the health of its users to pay a lower tax rate than tobacco products that DO produce smoke. While it’s true that our current system allows for that, and even makes such advocacy legal, there’s no reason for those of us not on the ALEC wavelength to admire the effort, or approve of it.

    And heavens, Mr. Swift’s 4th paragraph would lead the unsuspecting to the conclusion that he’s engaged in mindless stereotyping – rather cartoonish – actually, rather than the incisive wit by which he’s more widely known to MinnPost readers. I can only give his effort here a “Gentleman’s ‘C’,” and hope that he’ll do better next time.

  6. Submitted by Beth Hawkins on 07/30/2012 - 02:33 pm.

    Hang on a second…

    I feel compelled to jump in here in Rep. Loon’s defense. I called her at home on Friday and asked her about an 18-month-old bill that went nowhere. And I told her what I was writing in detail. And by appearances anyhow, she was forthcoming about her actions and positions, and quite clear that she has actually worked to make tobacco use more costly. And she told me some things about tobacco taxation that I did not know that caused me to do more reporting.

    I submit that this is how reporters and elected officials should interact on matters of public policy. But it has been the exception in all things ALEC-related over the last two years. More commonly, Loon’s colleagues and the lobbyists who court them have insisted they thought up bills all by themselves, have insisted they “can’t afford” to attend the group’s meetings and have alleged, in public and in social media, that I fabricate things. (Well, okay, so what they’ve said has actually been more profane. But whatevs, as the kids would say.)

    I read the bill in question before I called her, and I cheerfully acknowledge that my eyes began to glaze over as the type started to prescribe a formula for taxing “moist tobacco,” the definition of which alone is headache-making. Of course we can’t know, but I imagine that had it gotten legs and a hearing the effect would have become crystal clear. Indeed, perhaps it went nowhere precisely because its authors decided they didn’t stand behind it.

    And while I can’t make grand assertions about Rep. Loon’s voting record, I can say that she has authored measures–most notably a late, lamented bill to expand Minnesota’s early childhood education ratings and finance system–that are sensible and that have won considerable bipartisan support.

    Something I didn’t put in the story: The welcoming address at ALEC’s closed-door Salt Lake City meeting was delivered by the governor of Utah. What would you rather have, an elected official who is only to happy to smoke cigars with the captains of industry in a private setting that arguably exists to skirt public disclosure laws, or one who is willing to be up front about her dealings with lobbyists?

    • Submitted by Neal Rovick on 07/30/2012 - 02:44 pm.

      …perhaps it went nowhere precisely because its authors decided they didn’t stand behind it…

      “Authors” ???

      And then they decided they didn’t stand behind it?

      They couldn’t be bothered to find out before they put their names to the bill?

      “Beard”, rather than “Author” is the proper title for these legislators.

  7. Submitted by Kenneth Kjer on 07/30/2012 - 03:11 pm.


    Although they deny it, most Republican legislators in Mn are members, or are receiving advise, if not money from ALEC.

  8. Submitted by Robert Moffitt on 07/30/2012 - 03:12 pm.

    The more you know how this stuff is marketed to kids…

    …the angrier it makes you. If they can’t keep it out of the state, Minnesota should tax the heck out of smokeless tobacco products. That will make it a lot less appealing to youth.

    • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 07/30/2012 - 05:17 pm.

      The more you know how this stuff is marketed to kids…

      Reading Neil’s statisics, I have to agree with you Bob.

      • Submitted by Pat Berg since 2011 on 07/31/2012 - 08:39 am.

        Interesting . . . . .

        So you ARE okay with using taxes as a form of manipulating behavior . . . . . . .

        • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 08/01/2012 - 03:45 pm.

          Yes, Pat. That’s exactly correct.

          But only for things I agree with.

          So sick of wasting time trying to have logical discussions with leftists, I suddenly realize it’s easier to just play along.

  9. Submitted by Angelina Willium on 08/08/2012 - 03:59 am.

    Smokeless Electronic Cigarette

    I think lowering taxes for smokeless cigarettes are good but it will not allowed for teens, this is my concern for teenagers.

  10. Submitted by Steve Johnson on 08/15/2012 - 02:32 pm.


    I think we need to make it harder for teens to get Tabacoo and make the punishment more severe when they get caught with it. Plus you can tax the heck out of it and it isn’t going to change a thing, 10.00 a tin wouldn’t do anything. They need to quit making all these flavors that kids like, I swear the makers of these flavors have kids telling them what they like.

  11. Submitted by on 12/10/2012 - 01:32 pm.

    It is awfully wrong to expose someone to the hazards of passive smoking, and one must avoid doing it especially with the pregnant ladies. Rather, try using e-cigarettes as they are considered smokeless and less harmful. You can find further details about the electronic cigarette coupons by visiting at

Leave a Reply