City sets 'buy-5' cigar regulations to discourage kids

The Baltimore Sun

Saying she wants to put cigars out of the reach of young adults, Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon announced a new city rule that inexpensive cigars must be sold in packets of five or more.

"Single cheap cigars are becoming quite popular," Dixon said at a City Hall news conference. "These products are addictive and deadly."

Single cigars often cost as little as 50 cents at city corner stores, and people often empty them and refill them with marijuana. The new regulation, which will go effect Oct. 1, includes cigars that cost $2.50 each or less. Violators could receive a warning and then a fine of up to $1,000.

The city's health commissioner, Dr. Joshua M. Sharfstein, proposed a draft of the regulation in May. He noted yesterday that the new rule makes cigar sales consistent with the regulations requiring cigarettes be sold in packs of 20.

Dixon said she will also introduce a City Council bill banning individual cigar sales.

Young adults in the city are "sensitive to price," Dixon said, and requiring the cigars be sold in packets would drive up the consumer cost of the product, putting it beyond their means.

Bruce C. Bereano, a lobbyist for the Maryland Association of Tobacco and Candy Manufacturers, questioned the mayor's motives, saying he believes she is really trying to ban all smoking in the city. He said that only the General Assembly, which has twice failed to pass bans on selling individual cigars, has the authority to make such rules.

"The notion that they are trying to sell to kids is absurd," Bereano said.

National research cited in the regulation suggests that people are trying cigars at a younger age. The study found that in 2005, people who had tried cigars first did so at the age of 21.1. In 2006, that figure dipped to 19.9. And a 2007 study by public health researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that nearly 24 percent of Baltimoreans ages 18 to 25 had smoked cigars within the previous 30 days.

Bereano said the industry has filed a lawsuit to stop similar legislation in Prince George's County.

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