SB-63: A Wolf In Sheep's Clothing

Contributed by Paul Johnson

After hearing an audio testimony on SB-63, I emailed Senator Micciche, the initiating sponsor of this bill. I asked who or what prompted him to propose this legislation. I suspected BFA was behind the vaping language being included after recognizing the names of some of their spokespeople (and shills), but wanted to hear it directly.

Over a week passed with no response, which prompted me to follow up with more questions, the “5 Ws” - who, what, where, when and why. In particular the why, since there seemed to be some hypocrisy on his part, lobbying Senator Murkowski, saying, "A concern of mine is that the federal government always seems to have the uncanny opinion that they can control market forces more effectively than the forces themselves." (AK Dispatch News 2/11/14) in regard to federal control of natural gas exports at the Nikiski plant that he was superintendent of. When for the past four years, he has been pushing for state control over the private sector’s freedom of choice.

Within hours he responded, but not in the direct and respectful manner in which the questions were written. Instead, he used what could be considered the typical, condescending pivot and spin of a slippery politician. He began by holding up Bethel’s choice-based decision to ban public smoking twenty years ago as the model, with some familiar heart-wrenching rhetoric thrown in for good measure. Curiously, when asked, neither he nor anyone else on the committee could provide any statistics whatsoever on the improvement of health in that specific community since choosing to ban smoking. He also neglected answering the question of when, as to this specific legislation.

This was followed by some truly hyperbolic fearmongering rhetoric, unverifiable polling results and the olive branch (?) that the American Cancer Society and Lung Association had been “CC’d”. Off topic as to why the state needs control over how the private sector operates, but there it was, between the lines, the lobbyists behind the legislation. These are the same organizations that have poured countless millions into banning public smoking nationwide. There was no admission of AHHS or BFA involvement, though it is clear from the hearings and from the vaping language that has been added to the current version of this legislation.

He went on to disingenuously proclaim that, “This is one of the most conservative Senates in history.” working hard to reduce the cost of government. Along with outlandish claims of the cost to the state, though it is unclear how those figures were arrived at or how much they can factually be attributed to the state’s expense. 

There was even an attempt at some kind of reverse psychology challenge to go ahead and write a negative op-ed, to write away. It will only serve to increase support for this bill. Although he failed to mention the exemption in the bill for sport fishing charters and commercial fishing vessels like the gill-netter he captains. Or the exemption for retirement and assisted living homes, the most at risk groups of all. He also avoided the core issue of this legislation all together - government overreach into the private sector, the beginning of the start down a very slippery slope. 

To conflate vaping with smoking, as these organizations have attempted to for years, is even more ludicrous. The organizations are completely aware of the science and statistical data available from the UK and other enlightened countries. Their embracing of ENDS (vaping) as a valuable tool in harm reduction has enabled them to reduce the smoking rate by over 56%. Their stated goal is complete elimination of tobacco use within the next fifteen years, a goal that is easily achievable through vaping. The FDA head, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, recently stated that the FDA is revising its position on ENDS, recognizing them as “innovative tools in tobacco harm reduction”. Clearly, at the very least, the vaping language must be removed from this bill if Alaska is to achieve tobacco-free status, just as the UK is doing.

SB-63 is a smoking and vaping ban funded by well-heeled lobbyists and your state dollars. Parroting their worn fearmongering rhetoric and talking points is the easy way to appear to be “working hard”. What takes true character is to actually do the hard work of reducing government and regulations, developing a strategy to diversify the economy so there are more employment opportunities available statewide, balancing the budget and restoring our PFD to 100%. Senator Micciche appears to have chosen the easy path of cozying up to those well-heeled lobbyists, parroting their heart-wrenching and hyperbolic rhetoric.

If considering initiating statewide taxes and figuring out ways to raid the PF are conservative values, then you’re right on track Senator Micciche. Conservative indeed!

We’ve all seen the “Something must be done!” argument. “Something” usually is done, at the expense of the state and tax payer (and at this particular point in time, the expense of not balancing the budget or restoring the PFD). Sadly, little if any positive benefits are ever realized from the “something”. I hope you’ll see SB-63 for what it is- a wolf in sheep’s clothing.