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Attorney General Tim Griffin rejects tobacco tax initiative on first try

The pushback against cigarettes is tied to the health problems caused by smoking highly addictive tobacco.
Dave Martin
Arkansas' attorney general has rejected a ballot initiative which would do away with certain tobacco taxes in the state.

A ballot initiative to remove the “additional excise taxes” on tobacco products has failed on its first try. Arkansas Attorney General Tim Griffin felt the simple ballot initiative was too vague and lacked language clarifying what it would mean. The initiative was put forward by Libertarian activist David E. Dinwiddie of Pine Bluff.

The initiative appears to only remove taxes that the legislature has tacked on since the Tobacco Products Act of 1977, although Griffin said its wording on this could be misinterpreted.

The Tobacco Products Act of 1977 put a $10.50 tax on every 1,000 cigarettes sold. It also put a tax on cigars that was “not to exceed” 50 cents. Since then, the legislature has added more tobacco taxes. The Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration says the rate on tobacco products now is: “$57.50 per 1000 cigarettes or $11.50 per carton or $1.15 per pack.”

The initiative uses the same sentence for the ballot title and popular name. Griffin said it's vague. He felt a more proper initiative would go further to explain exactly which taxes would be cut.

“Do you intend the proposal to remove all excise taxes in effect before the TPA was passed,” the opinion asked, “or to eliminate all excise taxes enacted since the TPA? Or both?”

Griffin continued, saying the measure needs to “list the multiple programs that are supported by these taxes or explain that voting for the proposal will cut funding for the programs.”

In Arkansas, much of the money from the tobacco tax goes to healthcare. In 2019, Little Rock TV station THV11 reported the tax had raked in $170 million for healthcare in just 10 years. Griffin said by not clarifying this, the ballot title is “misleading” and that mentioning this would give voters “serious ground for reflection.”

Griffin also wanted to know if cigarette papers would fit into the initiative since they are not technically tobacco products.

Dinwiddie, a Pine Bluff native, ran against Democratic state Sen. Stephanie Flowers in 2022. He lost, getting 27% of the vote. He recently got a ballot title approved to make it easier to register your car as “antique.”

Josie Lenora is the Politics/Government Reporter for Little Rock Public Radio.