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    Tobacco Roundup of the American West

    Here’s a quick blast of recent regulatory/legislative news from the western region of the United States.

    Cigarette Taxes

    Of the 13 states comprising the Western U.S. (Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming), four state legislatures raised cigarette excise taxes in 2010, according to nocigtax.com, a tobacco tax Web site sponsored by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company.

    The state of Washington raised cigarette excise taxes by $1.00 to $3.025 per pack, which took effect May 1, 2010. Hawaii raised its cigarette excise tax by 40 cents to $3.00 per pack, New Mexico raised the tax by 75 cents to $1.66 per pack and Utah raised the tax by $1.005 to $1.70 per pack -- which all took effect on July 1, 2010.

    Meanwhile in California, a ballot question to raise the state’s cigarette taxes by $1.00 per pack was certified in 2010 to be placed on a February, 2012 state election ballot. This increase would hike the tax to $1.87 per pack, exceeding the tax of all its bordering states with the exception of Arizona.

    As for the eight other states in the region-- Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Wyoming -- no new cigarette tax legislation was introduced (as of December 30, 2010), according to the Tobacco Merchants Association’s (TMA’s) Legislative Tracking Report.

    High-Tech Cigarette Stamps

    In other taxation news, the California Board of Equalization (BOE) approved the use of improved, high-tech cigarette tax stamps with a new design and a number of new security features to further reduce the sale of counterfeit cigarettes and related excise tax evasion, which reportedly costs the state an estimated $182 million annually, according to a December press release by the BOE. The new cigarette tax stamps (which have unique serial numbers and are golden-yellow in appearance) are expected to be in use early this January. (For more on this, click here)

    Smoking Bans

    While Nevada’s smoking ban prohibits smoking in public places, the casinos in Las Vegas continue to remain exempt.

    The Santa Monica City Council in California banned smoking at the Santa Monica Pier, as part of efforts to protect the historic site from fire. Last year, discarded cigarettes reportedly caused two fires at the site.

    Retail Distribution and Sales

    In Santa Barbara County, California, a new ordinance requires tobacco product retailers to obtain an annual renewable license, with the license fee to cost $250 in 2011 and 2012, and $435 each year thereafter. The ordinance, which applies only to unincorporated areas of the county, will also ban new businesses from selling tobacco products within 1,000 feet of a school, but existing tobacco retailers near schools can transfer their businesses to other locations provided they are under the same license. Under the ordinance, a business license can be suspended for 30 days for first-time violations of the underage sales law, 90 days for the second offense and one year for the third violation, or five years if the retailer is near a school.

    In Santa Clara County, California, a new ordinance requires tobacco retailers in unincorporated areas of the county to pay an annual permit fee of $425. The measure also places restrictions on tobacco advertising at points of sale and prevents retailers from hiring anyone below 18. Although the new law requires a one-time permit application fee of $340, the county said it will waive that cost for existing retailers. In addition, new tobacco outlets will not be allowed within 1,000 feet of schools or 500 feet of another tobacco retailer.

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