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The following is a quick blast of the latest regulatory/legislative news from the Southern region of the United States.
Of the 16 states composing the southern region of the U.S. (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas), one state has so far this year approved an increase in cigarette excise tax legislation -- South Carolina. The tax went into effect July 1. South Carolina's increase -- it’s first since 1977 -- means it no longer has the lowest cigarette tax in the nation, according to a Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids press release. Missouri will now have the lowest cigarette tax at 17 cents a pack. Virginia, at 30 cents, now has the second-lowest tax.
South Carolina now ranks 42nd in the nation in cigarette excise taxes. Proponents of the increase said it will help fund state-run health care programs and dissuade children from picking up the smoking habit. Opponents of the bill criticized the increase as being too large of a jump at one time and for hurting the tobacco-farming state's economy, especially when its border states North Carolina and Georgia will now have lower per-pack taxes.
As for the other states in the region -- Maryland, West Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi have introduced increased tax legislation. The other nine -- Delaware, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, Kentucky, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas -- have not, according to the Tobacco Merchants Association’s (TMA’s) Legislative Tracking Report.
Across the U.S., the average state cigarette tax jumped to $1.45 per pack (from $1.34 per pack in 2009), after the recent July 1 tax increases (which included not only South Carolina, but also Hawaii, New York, New Mexico and Utah).
For the first half of 2010, bills calling for the modification of other tobacco products to be taxed on a weight basis (also known as specific excise tax), rather than the current ad-valorem (or percent of price-based) excise tax, were enacted in four states, including Virginia, according to the TMA’s August 2010 Issues Monitor. Virginia modified its snuff excise tax rate from 10 percent of the manufacturer’s sales price to 18 cents per ounce.
Internet Sales & Mail Order
Maryland enacted legislation that prohibits the selling or shipping of other tobacco products, ordered or purchased by mail or through the internet, by telephone or by any other electronic network, to a consumer or unlicensed recipient in the state.
Smoking bans continue to get lots of play at many levels -- state/city/county and even, the private sector. Here are some of the latest happenings surrounding proposals/bans from the southern states:
- Mississippi: At the state level, Mississippi now prohibits smoking or the use of any tobacco product in an indoor or outdoor public facility, or within 100 feet of the facility if it is not enclosed, during any time persons under 18 are engaged in an organized athletic event.
- Oklahoma: Also statewide, Oklahoma enacted legislation that prohibits smoking in all buildings, or portions thereof, owned by an educational facility as is defined in the “Smoking in Pulic Places and Indoor Workplaces Act.”
- Georgia: Savannah is considering a ban on smoking in all public buildings, including bars and restaurants, and within 20 feet of any business entrance. The council is planning many public meetings on the ordinance, where business owners have already spoken out against it, before a decision is made.
- Virginia: Fairfax County is considering a smoking ban at all public bus shelters. The statewide smoking ban in bars and restaurants took effect on Dec. 1, 2009, with violations resulting in a fine of $25.
- South Carolina: The new members of the Columbia City Council are considering exempting cigar bars, defined as a bar that generates 35 percent or more of its annual gross income from the sale of cigars and tobacco products, from the city's public smoking ban that took effect in October 2008.
- North Carolina: The Winston-Salem Transit Authority in North Carolina is considering banning smoking inside covered bus stop shelters.
- Alabama: Calhoun Community College is tobacco-free as of Aug. 16, prohibiting tobacco use, distribution and sales on its premises. Snead State Community College is right behind it, in the process of developing a tobacco-free policy for its campus.
- Texas: Travis County and the city of Austin are considering a ban on tobacco use at all county and city properties.The Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department is one of 43 cities and counties across the US that received a grant to reduce obesity and decrease smoking.
- In San Antonio, The City Council's Quality of Life Committee is considering in August a proposal to strengthen the city's smoking ban to include the San Antonio Zoo, parks, outdoor stadiums and other public spaces, in addition to bars, pool halls, comedy clubs, restaurants and bingo halls. The League of United Latin American Citizens, the San Antonio Mixed Beverage Association, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the San Antonio Restaurant Association are opposing the plan saying it is socio-economically biased because it would hurt small, minority and women-owned businesses.
- Louisiana: Although the Louisiana Legislature recently rejected a proposal to ban smoking in bars, nearly 40 bars and clubs in New Orleans prohibit smoking on their premises, according to an up-to-date list of smoke-free establishments posted by the Louisiana Campaign for Tobacco Free Living. Even though many bar owners are in favor of the ban, several others admitted they are worried about the effect on business.
In other southern tobacco news:
- Maryland: In Prince George’s County, a January 2009 ruling was upheld banning the sale of single cigars by requiring stores to sell them in packs of at least five.
- Louisiana: The International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers (IPCPR), reported that companies participating in its 2010 trade show, to be held Aug. 9-13, in New Orleans, will be allowed to offer cigar or other smoking tobacco samples free from state excise and use taxes for the duration of the show. The tax break is not applicable to any cigarettes distributed at the show, however.
- Texas: A report released recently by Keep Texas Beautiful found that cigarette butts accounted for 43 percentof litters in the state in 2009, with nearly 400 million butts tossed on state roadways. Cities like Victoria, Texas are urging residents to help solve the problem by disposing of tobacco packaging and butts in the proper receptacles.