City Council weighs measure taxing cigars Bill also would impose levy on sales of pipe, chewing tobacco

June 02, 1998|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

The nation's fight over tobacco came to Baltimore yesterday with the introduction of a City Council bill that would tax cigars and pipe and chewing tobacco 36 cents to 90 cents per sale.

The bill, introduced by Southwest Baltimore Councilman Norman A. Handy Sr., comes a month after the state legislature balked at adding a $1.50-a-pack tax to cigarettes. Although state law controls cigarettes, Maryland is one of only seven states that does not tax cigars and other tobacco.

Baltimore becomes the first city in the state to attempt the tax. Montgomery County introduced a similar measure last month. Handy, a minister from the 6th District, expressed particular concern over youths who empty cigars of tobacco to fill the shells with marijuana to create "blunts."

"This phenomenon is so prevalent that you can't go to any corner store in Baltimore and not find cigars for sale," Handy said while introducing the bill. "The glamorization of cigars is at an all-time high, as well as their use by youth."

Cigar industry leaders oppose the tax as discrimination against smokers. Stan Michalowski, operator of Cigar Landing Co. at Inner Harbor, said a higher tax on cigars won't decrease consumption. Kids aren't smoking cigars, Michalowski said, and even if they were, higher taxes won't stop them.

"If kids are wearing a pair of $125 sneakers, how is this going to stop them?" Michalowski said. "I don't see how taxing a product is going to curb people from smoking. It just hurts consumers."

Under the bill, individual cigars sold in the city would be taxed 36 cents each. A package of six or fewer cigars would be taxed 90 cents. The levy on pipe tobacco would be 72 cents per sale, while chewing tobacco prices would rise 54 cents per sale.

Baltimore officials said they are unsure how much revenue would be generated by the tax. The proposed tax in Montgomery County would bring in an estimated $250,000 in revenue. Both measures are being pushed by the Maryland Children's Initiative, a nonprofit agency created to reduce teen-age smoking.

In other action, the council:

Adopted a resolution asking the police commissioner and state's attorney to review whether the city's drug-free zones are working. In 1989, the city established 55 such zones, giving police increased powers to disperse loiterers and arrest drug dealers. Prosecutors, however, have failed to prosecute the cases, wary of the law's constitutionality. The resolution was introduced by Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr. of West Baltimore.

Adopted a resolution asking the Department of Public Works to remove and store the letters affixed to the front of Memorial Stadium. The stadium -- the former home of the Baltimore Orioles baseball and Baltimore Colts football teams -- is scheduled to be demolished. The Maryland Veterans Commission has asked that the words "Time will not dim the glory of their deeds" be saved for a future war memorial.

Adopted a resolution to amend the boundaries of a proposed state enterprise zone. Two months ago, the Baltimore Development Corp. applied for the zone in order to provide incentives to attract businesses to the area, including the site of Memorial Stadium. Some neighbors of the stadium objected to the plan, saying that they were not notified. The new map, introduced by Robert W. Curran of the 3rd District, excludes Memorial Stadium.

Council members stood for the first 75 minutes of yesterday's meeting as part of National Stand For Children Day, an effort to emphasize safety, health care and education for children.

Pub Date: 6/02/98

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