In the shadow of the Maryland State Police Forestville Barracks, Comptroller Peter Franchot, alongside members of his Field Enforcement Division and other law enforcement agencies, today urged the Maryland Senate to pass Senate Bill 120, legislation aimed at increasing the penalties for smuggling cigarettes and other tobacco products into Maryland. The companion bill, House Bill 346, passed by a 115 to 12 vote margin in the House of Delegates in March. Comptroller Franchot hopes the Senate will follow suit.
“The state is losing a substantial amount of much needed revenue as a result of cigarette smuggling and the associated tax loss. But just as importantly, the minor penalties currently imposed for being caught smuggling do nothing to deter criminals from continuing to blatantly break the law, ” said Comptroller Franchot.
Currently, the crime of transportation of contraband (unstamped) cigarettes in the state of Maryland is a felony, which carries a $50 per carton fine and/or two years imprisonment; and the crime of possession of contraband cigarettes is a misdemeanor, carrying a $1,000 fine and/or imprisonment, not exceeding one year. The new legislation would impose a mandatory $150 per carton fine for the first offense and a mandatory $300 fine for subsequent offenses, as well as up to two years in prison for both crimes.
The Comptroller has been a vocal proponent for aggressive enforcement of the tobacco tax laws and tougher penalties to assist in the battle against illegal cigarette smuggling in Maryland. So far in the 2012 fiscal year, his agents have confiscated $1.5 million worth of contraband cigarettes, more than the nearly $1.2 million worth of cigarettes confiscated during the entire 2011 fiscal year.
“Cigarette smuggling is a lucrative operation for criminals due, in part, to the minor consequences they face if caught. Smuggling, not only takes revenue out of state coffers, but also makes cigarettes easily accessible to young people. Penalties for this crime must be tougher in order to snuff out this public health and safety risk,” Franchot said.