Welcome to Indiana, where state legislators toss away their free-market principles to create a monopolistic empire for connected businesses. If you’ve tried to follow the bizarre saga of vaping legislation in the Hoosier State, you know it’s a hard story to pin down. And now most of the lawmakers responsible for the laws aren’t talking. But the hidden truth that Indiana vapers have known for a long time is starting to get some public attention, as mainstream press is finally looking more closely. But it could be too late.
Here’s the short version. The law that was passed last year (HB 1432), and amended earlier this year, requires any e-liquid maker who wants to sell products in Indiana to be certified as compliant with a series of complex requirements by a security firm. This was billed as consumer protection — preventing dangers from harmful constituents in the e-liquids, and from poor lab conditions — even though there are no such requirements for drug companies or food manufacturers, which often do have issues with allowing dangerous products to go to market. Placing stricter standards on businesses whose products have never caused ill health than on ones that quite often do is of, well…questionable worth.
Any e-juice company not certified by June 30 is out of luck, because there is no path to approval by the state Alcohol and Tobacco Commission later. Meanwhile, only one security company in the entire country — Mulhaupt’s of Lafayette, Indiana — meets the equally byzantine guidelines to supply services and certify e-liquid manufacturers, and that company has only accepted business with six juice makers. Of course, they also have financial connections to the people who lobbied for the law to begin with.
Both houses of the Indiana legislature are Republican-controlled. Gov. Mike Pence is a Republican too. So why did these supposed believers in small business and economic competition create this slimy chunk of crony capitalism that looks like something out of Tammany Hall? Were they paid off by Big Tobacco, or were they influenced – as happens in so many states — by pharma-financed “public health” groups like the Campaign For Tobacco-Free Kids or the American Heart Association?
Actually, although the legislators exempted closed-system products like the tobacco companies’ e-cigarette and disposable vapes from the law’s strict standards, that was probably just a ploy to keep tobacco lobbyists from interfering with the real game being played. Tobacco and pharmaceutical interests had nothing to do with this law. None of the usual clueless vaping opponents had anything to do with it.
Indianapolis Star political columnist Matthew Tully wrote about corruption in the Indiana legislature two years before HB 1432 was even introduced. What Tully found was that influence peddling and backroom deals were a bipartisan enterprise, and that they were common, accepted and shockingly casual.
Walk the Statehouse corridors when the General Assembly is in session and among the most common sights is the presence of former lawmakers and legislative staffers, now working as paid lobbyists. They fill the halls outside the House and Senate chambers, looking for help from lawmakers with whom they once served. The lobbying industry spends millions to shape public policy; the state’s casino industry alone spent at least $5.8 million to lobby 150 lawmakers over the past five years at the same time it repeatedly sought legislative changes that would save the industry far more money. High-ranking operatives in both major political parties also work as Statehouse lobbyists, seeking to influence the same members they help get elected. And many lawmakers…don’t shy from participating in debates over bills despite having close ties to the businesses or industries affected by the legislation.
Conflicts of interest are as routine in the General Assembly as partisan spats, and the atmosphere of coziness between lawmakers and special interests is both deeply entrenched and widely accepted.
Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of the culture of coziness is that it is often not a secret — it’s tolerated and even applauded.