Maryland cigarette smuggling bill to be considered Wednesday

Maryland loses hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to cigarette smuggling. State lawmakers are calling it an epidemic, and they want to use stiffer penalties to curb it.

On Tuesday, Comptroller of Maryland Peter Franchot pushed Senate Bill 69, which will be considered Wednesday.

Franchot explained, "The legislation that we're proposing today would impose a mandatory $150 per carton fine for the first offense and a mandatory $300 fine for subsequent offenses."

Smuggling cigarettes and evading higher taxes have become a costly and growing public safety issue in Maryland, with Forest Heights considered a "gateway."

"If you tabulate all the cigarette arrests we make, probably 70 percent of the transporters that we...arrest are arrested right here in PG County or points north on 95," said Earl Fowlkes, field enforcement division, Comptroller of Maryland.

Maryland officials want to stop these violators in their tracks with a tough, new bill.

With cheaper tobacco tax in neighboring states like Virginia, which stands at 30 cents a pack, some people are buying in bulk and flipping a profit along I-95. The risky business is adding to big losses in Maryland.

It's also a potential risk to youth.

"These cheap cigarettes lure youth and new users to adopt cigarette smoking habits...,"said Attorney William Tilburg with the Legal Resource Center for Tobacco Regulation.

Last year, the state confiscated more than 325,000 pack of cigarettes. Usually the manufacturers are contacted to see if they want to buy the cartons back. If the answer is no, the state foots the bill to have the cigarettes destroyed.