ROCKVILLE – Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr. will try again in January to pass a bill allowing county health officials to civilly sanction tobacco retailers caught selling cigarettes to children.
Montgomery, Howard and Prince George’s counties have ordinances that allow them to do this now.
Since its ordinance took effect three years ago, Montgomery County has seen increased compliance. The county now boasts a 95 percent compliance rate, the highest in the state.
In other counties, however, only police or Curran’s office can enforce the law.
County officials say this is a problem.
“They (police) have priorities. Tobacco has not been a priority,” said Dennis Theoharis, executive director of Montgomery County’s Board of License Commissioners.
A similar bill introduced last legislative session never got off the ground because officials got in the game too late, Theoharis said.
The decision to advocate such a bill comes after a sting operation earlier this year in Baltimore, Baltimore County and Prince George’s County revealed cigarettes are too accessible to children.
Out of 42 attempts, children successfully purchased cigarettes 62 percent of the time.
Nearly 30,000 children buy more than 12 million packs of cigarettes each year, Curran said. About 13,000 of those 30,000 children will become regular smokers, he added.
Until a bill is passed, Curran and county officials are banding together to attack the problem at its source – the retailers.
“We need the cooperation of the retailers to reduce youth access to cigarettes,” Curran said at a Tuesday news conference in Rockville announcing a statewide crackdown on cigarette sales to minors.
The 7,000 tobacco retailers statewide, with the exception of Anne Arundel County, will get a joint letter from Curran and county officials and guides reminding them of Maryland’s laws and penalties. Anne Arundel County will hand out its own version of the guide.
The initiative, funded by the attorney general’s office, will cost about $4,000.
Curran said his office may resume sting operations and fine retailers if the compliance rate doesn’t increase after the guides are distributed.
– 30 – CNS 11-27-01