Balto. Co. Council OKs tobacco-sale civil fines

November 20, 2007|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,Sun reporter

Stores caught selling tobacco to minors will face civil fines of up to $500 under legislation approved last night by the Baltimore County Council.

By a 5-0 vote, the council authorized the county Health Department to issue fines of $300 for the first violation and $500 for subsequent ones. Councilmen Joseph Bartenfelder and T. Bryan McIntire were absent.

Stores already face criminal fines under a state law prohibiting the sale of cigarettes, cigars and chewing tobacco to anyone younger than 18. But anti-smoking advocates say state and county police are too strapped to consistently enforce the law.

Councilman Kevin Kamenetz, one of five sponsors of the bill, said he envisions health officials performing sting operations to enforce the law. He said he believes some stores knowingly sell tobacco to minors.

"If people aren't pulled over for speeding, then it would not serve as an incentive for other drivers to slow down," said Kamenetz, a Pikesville-Ruxton Democrat. "What we're hoping here is that with some publicized enforcement, all shop owners will comply with the law."

Six other Maryland jurisdictions have imposed civil fines for tobacco sales to minors: Baltimore City and Howard, Kent, Montgomery, Prince George's and St. Mary's counties.

Michael Strande of the Legal Resource Center for Tobacco Regulation, Litigation and Advocacy at the University of Maryland School of Law said yesterday that officials from those jurisdictions have provided anecdotal evidence that the fines discourage sales to minors.

"The people who are fined tend to just pay rather than fight or be required to go to trial" and then become less likely to sell to minors, Strande said.

Also last night, the council reduced the amount of a tax credit awarded to owners of commercial buildings that meet a standard for energy efficiency. The county will still provide a total of up to $5 million in credits.

But under the new legislation, approved by a 5-0 vote, the credits will vary in amount depending on a building's rating with the U.S. Green Building Council, with bigger credits given for more efficient buildings. Councilman Vincent J. Gardina, a co-sponsor of the bill, said the changes are designed to spread the credits among a maximum number of owners.

The council also increased the fine to $100 from $25 for failing to obtain a county license for a cat or dog.

And two councilmen introduced a bill taking countywide a program that requires landlords to obtain licenses and submit their rental properties to inspection.

The bill is scheduled to come up for discussion and face a council vote next month.

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