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No new taxes on low-price cigars

The Baltimore Sun

State lawmakers increased taxes on cigarettes during the special session, but the "loosie" slipped through their fingers.

A provision that would have extended the new cigarette tax to some low-price cigars - known as "loosies" because they can be sold individually or in packs - was abandoned.

Supporters of the effort, which also would have prohibited the sale of single loosies, said it would have improved health in urban areas such as Baltimore, where brands including Black & Mild are popular among black youth.

"We thought it was great. We were sorry that it didn't stay in," said Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative.

But opponents said the legislation unfairly singled out the Black & Mild brand.

"We believe it's unfair to target a single tobacco product brand, to tax it differently than its competitors," said David Sutton, a spokesman for Philip Morris, which owns the brand.

The language was proposed by Del. Shawn Z. Tarrant and Sen. Nathaniel J. McFadden, both Baltimore Democrats.

It would have required retailers to sell the cigars, including the popular Black & Milds, in packs of five or more. Like cigarettes, they would have been taxed $1 per pack of five to 10 cigars and $2 per pack of 11 to 20.

The Senate passed a tobacco tax bill with McFadden's amendment, but it was stripped out in the House. The bill signed Monday by Gov. Martin O'Malley raised the cigarette tax but makes no mention of loosies.

Tarrant said he was disappointed that the language did not make it into the final version of the bill, but that the House felt it was an issue better dealt with separately, along with a tax on moist snuff.

But opponents of the proposed regulations said it is "very unfair" to increase the tax on loosies for everyone in the state because of a problem most pronounced in Baltimore.

"This is not a taxation issue, it is an enforcement issue," said Bruce C. Bereano, a lobbyist for the Maryland Association of Tobacco and Candy Distributors.

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