Banning Cigarette Vending Machines HOWARD COUNTY

June 08, 1993

No fewer than five bills aimed at making cigarette vending machines inaccessible to minors were introduced during the last session of the General Assembly. All of them died -- either in committee or by failing to pass both houses. That was unfortunate because it showed an unwillingness by state elected officials to deal with this important issue.

Limiting access to cigarette vending machines by restricting where they can be placed would be a progressive step because the machines present a threat to minors who could get addicted to cigarettes. Moreover, the state needs to provide leadership to local governments on this issue. The absence of that leadership has Howard County officials floundering for a response to the problem.

County Councilman Darrel Drown recently proposed, and then abandoned, a ban on cigarette vending machines in Howard County. The Republican legislator realized he had little choice after a Circuit Court judge in Montgomery County struck down a proposed ban there. The judge ruled that such a ban could be made only by the state, which licenses all vending machines, not by local governments.

Mr. Drown's proposal didn't seem very plausible even before that ruling.

Research shows that most adult smokers acquire the habit as teen-agers and that many of them purchase their first cigarettes from vending machines, which allow them to flout laws prohibiting tobacco sales to minors.

But does that warrant a ban on all vending machines at all locations? As long as cigarettes are legal, people have a right to sell and purchase them.

Our objections regarding smoking result from the health dangers that cigarettes present to non-smokers and smokers alike. If people are intent on purchasing tobacco products for private use, though, that is their own misguided business.

While we have supported efforts to ban smoking in restaurants and workplaces, in Howard County and elsewhere, smoking restrictions are an issue of where people can smoke, not whether they can.

Mr. Drown has little choice but to wait for state lawmakers to take the lead on this issue. As noble as an outright ban on cigarette vending may seem, it's not as appropriate as regulating the placement of cigarette machines.

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