Md. Lawmakers Push for Tougher Cigarette Smuggling Penalties - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

Md. Lawmakers Push for Tougher Cigarette Smuggling Penalties

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(Photo: WBOC) (Photo: WBOC)

POCOMOKE CITY, Md.- Some Maryland lawmakers are pushing a bill to make it a lot harder for smugglers to carry cigarettes through the state before selling them for profit in other states.

The bill is looking to create a mandatory fine of $150 per carton for anyone trying to smuggle cigarettes and other tobacco products.

On Wednesday, the state police said that they have been busy catching smugglers mostly along the route 113 corridor in Worcester County.

Marcus Thomas, who manages a convenience store in Pocomoke City, said the economy is still very tough to keep the business afloat, so when he hears that criminals are smuggling cigarettes through his state, he finds himself competing. 

"If you are coming into one state and buying cigarettes for $15 cheaper than what you're going to sell it for in another state and you are making a profit of more that $30, then there should be a penalty for that because at that point you are taking money out of our pockets of business," Thomas said. 

Worcester County State's Attorney Beau Oglesby said that not only do prosecutors and lawmakers want to put a stop to this crime, but also keep honest people like Thomas in business. 

"Our hope is that the increased sanctions are going to be an effective deterrent because as it currently stands there's no mandatory fine or incarceration for individuals who are caught," he said. "The smoker in Maryland can travel to Virginia and actually buy more cigarettes under this piece of legislation and come back and enjoy their tobacco product, the message to them needs to be that we are not attacking the consumer, but we are attacking the smugglers who are using those proceeds to fund other criminal endeavors."

Some other business owners like Usman Ahmad said that there are times when he sees smugglers committing the act right in front of his store.

It's a crime that he said he can't do anything about but hopes that a new law if passed will change that.

"We lose a lot of money like that especially sometimes from Virginia they bring cartons to sell them on the streets then they sell single cigs on the streets and we lose a lot of money," Ahmad said.  

State officials said that there has been a 150 percent increase in the amount of seized contraband last month when compared to the same time last year. 

So far in the 2013 fiscal year, officials have made 115 arrests for smuggling contraband into the state and 260,000 packs of cigarettes have been confiscated.

The bill has already passed through the Senate. The House of Delegates will be considering the measure next week in Annapolis.
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