Local tobacco control sought

Delegation OKs bill

store owner has policy against sales to minors

Bereano opposes measure

February 25, 2000|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Sensing perhaps a friendlier atmosphere, Howard County's state legislators have approved a bill that would give county government control -- including licensing -- of tobacco sales.

"This would allow the county to decide how it would like to regulate tobacco products," said Del. Shane Pendergrass, the bill's sponsor and a Democrat who chairs the county's House delegation.

The bill was overwhelmingly approved by the Howard delegation Wednesday,the same day a group of Howard County high school students held a news conference to report that they were able to buy cigarettes at 26 of 51 county stores and gas stations they recently tested.

The students, who announced their results at Long Reach High School in Columbia, belong to a group called Students Helping Other People. The volunteer members oppose drug and alcohol abuse and teen smoking.

The owner of a store where the students said they were able to buy cigarettes said yesterday that he has begun a stricter policy on tobacco sales.

Lloyd Thacker, owner of Columbia Exxon across from the fire station on Little Patuxent Parkway, said all purchases of cigarettes, no matter what the apparent age of the buyer, will require a photo identification.

He also complained about the way the students conducted the study. He said that once they saw a violation they should have informed him right away so he could take action.

"We have no evidence -- no one has approached me -- from this high school delegation that one of my cashiers sold cigarettes to a minor," he said.

"I don't smoke and I've never smoked in my life, and I am very hard about anybody selling cigarettes to minors.

"Months ago, not just now, all of my cashiers have it in writing," Thacker said. "They've signed statements that under no circumstances do they sell cigarettes to a minor. Also that we will accept nothing but photo I.D. And a photo I.D. to us is a driver's license. Because on that we can check the birth dates.

"And my cashiers have been told if they are caught selling to a minor, they are automatically fined $100 and there's no excuses."

The bill that the county delegation approved applies only to Howard, but it likely will be seen as a statewide bill, said Bruce C. Bereano, a General Assembly lobbyist for most of the state's tobacco merchants.

Noting that the bill has failed before because it was seen as having statewide implications, Bereano said he will strongly oppose it.

"Any regulation of the sale of the lawful product of tobacco should be done on a statewide, uniform basis. From the beginning, it has always been at the state level," he said.

Pendergrass acknowledged the bill has been approved by Howard's delegation before, only to die in a legislative committee, but "there is a new climate on tobacco matters, and I decided to give it another chance."

With the General Assembly's 90-day session more than a third over, Pendergrass must get the House Rules Committee to agree to late introduction of the bill, a step that is often routine.

Del. Donald E. Murphy, a Howard-Baltimore County Republican, voted no, saying the bill's "language is so incredibly broad" that it would give county government too much power.

"This is the `do whatever you want to do' bill," he said. He and state Sen. Edward J. Kasemeyer, a Democrat representing the same district, were the only votes against the bill.

"We ought to let local government have more impact" on tobacco, said Republican Del. Robert L. Flanagan, a supporter.

Del. John A. Giannetti Jr., a Prince George's-Howard Democrat, said he voted for the measure to get it to a larger committee for wider consideration.

Howard County Executive James N. Robey supported the bill, because while it would allow county control, it would not require the county to take action.

That's why Robey opposed another local smoking bill this year, which would have required county inspectors to cite store owners whose businesses sell tobacco to underage teens.

That bill, sponsored by state Sen. Martin G. Madden, a Howard Republican, would have cost the county up to $100,000 to hire inspectors, the delegation was told in January by Herman Charity, Robey's lobbyist. It was defeated in a delegation vote Jan. 19.

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