Effort by Howard County to control sales of tobacco dies in a House committee

Pendergrass measure is defeated, 18-3

March 28, 2000|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Howard County's bid to control tobacco sales locally died a lopsided death over the weekend, despite what sponsor Del. Shane Pendergrass thought could be a "new climate on tobacco matters" this year.

The bill, approved by the Howard delegation last month, would have given county government the power to make rules for tobacco sales. Although technically a local bill affecting only Howard County, legislative leaders and tobacco industry lobbyists saw it as setting a precedent statewide.

Only three delegates among 21 voted for House Bill 1387 at the House Environmental Matters Committee session Saturday, committee staffers said. The vote was so lopsided that Del. George W. Owings III, a committee member who represents Calvert County, where tobacco is grown, said he didn't need an amendment he had prepared for the bill.

The amendment, he said, would have barred Howard County from getting any tobacco suit settlement money if the Pendergrass bill led to any more restrictive measures on tobacco sales than are on state books.

Pendergrass, a Democrat who chairs Howard's House delegation, said yesterday the committee action "disappoints me." Although the bill has failed three times in past years, "I put in a reasonable bill -- something that would be good for the county -- and it doesn't cost the state anything. People are so determined not to open their eyes and let people have what they want in their own community. They're not changing with the times," she said about opponents. "I didn't put it in to be futile."

Howard's delegation approved the measure Feb. 24 -- on the same day a group of county high school students held a news conference in Columbia to reveal it was able to buy cigarettes at 26 of 51 county stores and gas stations it had tested.

Despite that -- and despite a national climate in which tobacco companies have agreed to pay billions of dollars to states seeking reimbursement for medical treatment of people suffering from smoking-related ills -- tobacco industry lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano has argued that "any regulation of the sale of the lawful product of tobacco should be done on a statewide, uniform basis."

The only committee supporters for the bill were Democrats -- Baltimore County Dels. Dan K. Morhaim, a physician, and Shirley Nathan-Pulliam; and Prince George's Del. Barbara Frush. No Howard delegates serve on the committee.

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