Tobacco lobbyist blasts Montgomery council resolution on cigarette sales -- Gazette.Net


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This story was clarified at 4 p.m. May 1, 2014. An explanation follows the story.

The Montgomery County Council voted unanimously Tuesday to urge stores with pharmacies to stop selling cigarettes, leaving a prominent Annapolis lobbyist fuming.

Bruce Bereano criticized the council’s resolution as legislative “double-talk” that infringes on the state’s authority to regulate tobacco sales.

Bereano, whose clients include tobacco wholesalers, said several court decisions make it very clear that counties and municipalities have no authority to control or regulate the sale of tobacco products. He pointed, as an example, to a 2013 Maryland Court of Appeals case involving two Prince George’s County ordinances regulating the sale of cigars.

The Montgomery council’s resolution recognized CVS Caremark for its decision to stop selling cigarettes and other tobacco products in its drugstores as of Oct. 1, a move the company estimates will cost it $2 billion in annual sales. The resolution also lists the economic and health costs of smoking, and notes that more than two dozen state attorneys general have signed a letter urging major retailers not to sell tobacco products in their stores that have pharmacies.

Council Vice President George L. Leventhal (D-At Large) of Takoma Park, the resolution’s sponsor, emphasized before Tuesday’s vote that the resolution was nonbinding and merely urged other stores to follow CVS’s example.

But Bereano said he put little stock in the nonbinding nature of the resolution, which he called “a bunch of bunk.”

The resolution may be nonbinding, but it was still an action that was taken by the county’s legislative body and seems designed to scare and intimidate drugstores into not selling cigarettes, he said.

“It’s double-talk. It is absolute double-talk,” Bereano said.

Leventhal said Wednesday that he wanted to give credit to CVS for its decision, and his resolution neither prohibited nor regulated tobacco sales.

Bereano is paid to lobby on behalf of his clients, but what CVS has done deserves recognition, he said.

Timothy Maloney with the Rockville and Greenbelt law firm of Joseph Greenwald & Laake, who represented cigar wholesalers in the case of Altadis U.S.A. Inc. et al v. Prince George’s County, said he thinks the council passed a resolution because it knew it couldn’t regulate tobacco sales.

Such resolutions are often a chance for legislators to get issues off their chests, he said.

rmarshall@gazette.net

Explanation: The original subheadline misconstrued Bruce Bereano’s characterization of the resolution.