Bill would fund UAMS cancer center with cigarette, e-cigarette, marijuana taxes

by Steve Brawner (BRAWNERSTEVE@MAC.COM) 384 views 

A bill has been filed to aid in creating a National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center in Arkansas by taxing e-cigarettes and cigarette paper and by increasing the tax on medical marijuana.

House Bill 1442 by Rep. Andy Davis, R-Little Rock, would create a tax of 10 cents per milliliter of e-liquid sold, and it would increase the excise tax on cigarette paper by 50 cents per package of about 32 sheets. It also would increase from 4 percent to 6 percent the sales tax remitted by marijuana cultivators and dispensers.

The revenues would be dedicated to a proposed University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) National Cancer Research Center Designation Trust Fund. The fund is meant to enable UAMS’ Winthrop P. Rockefeller Cancer Institute to attain a NCI Research Center designation.

The fund would be created by Senate Bill 151 by Sen. Missy Irvin, R-Mountain Home. That legislation passed the Senate Feb. 5 and advanced through the House Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee Feb. 12.

Davis said in an interview Wednesday that the bill annually would raise $11 to $12 million. About $6 million of that would be new revenues. The rest would be currently undesignated funds being raised by taxes on marijuana, which is not yet available for sale. E-cigarettes currently are not taxed beyond the same sales taxes paid on other consumer products. Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, is the Senate sponsor.

Attaining NCI Research Center status would provide the Institute more access to research funds and would give patients access to clinical trials, cancer treatments and prevention services. Dr. Cam Patterson, UAMS’ chancellor, said in an interview Feb. 8 that the designation would increase the number of National Cancer Institute-funded physicians and scientists. It would generate about $72 million annually for Arkansas and create 1,500 jobs in the first five years.

Patterson said the Rockefeller Center currently has $12 million in annual National Cancer Research Institute-funded research and needs to reach $18 million to attain the designation.

“There is a long list of requirements to be NCI-designated, and we’ve checked off most of the rest,” he said. He said the funding is “the last big thing on the list.”

A funding stream of between $10 million and $20 million annually is needed to establish and maintain a center. UAMS is trying to raise $30 million in one-time funds from donors.

Patterson said the Rockefeller Institute is in the finalist stage of recruiting a new director. The candidates want to know if the Institute will be NCI-designated.

“They are all following the news about this as rabidly as I am,” he said.

Davis said he and Dismang did not work with UAMS in creating the bill.

“I let them know that I was going to work on a funding bill, but really no one else including UAMS, the governor’s office, nobody else has been involved in hashing out these details,” he said.

He said sponsors of Senate Bill 151 are aware of his bill and that the details of his bill could change “based on input we get over the next few days.”

Davis said he has never voted for a tax increase, “much less sponsor one.” He said this would provide significant economic benefits to the state, but more important would be the benefits to cancer patients who won’t have to travel out of state. UAMS would be able to partner with facilities across the state to provide treatments.

“For me, that’s what makes it worth doing,” he said. “I’m sure there’ll be some anti-tax criticism, and I’m OK with that. It’s worth doing if the family that’s fighting cancer can stay at home and get that treatment at home.”

According to Irvin’s bill, there are 70 NCI-designated centers in 36 states, but none in Arkansas, Mississippi or Louisiana. Oklahoma received the 70th designation in 2018.

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