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Government & Politics

Ex-Lawmaker Attempts to ‘Stir the Pot A Little’ With Letter on Tobacco

Boxes of contraband tobacco products recovered in a bust last year by the state comptroller’s office. Photo by Eric Myers/Capital News Service

Former Del. Frank Turner (D-Howard) circulated a letter to his ex-colleagues on the House Economic Matters Committee in opposition to the bill that would ban the transport, manufacture or sale of flavored tobacco products in Maryland to reduce the number of youth smokers in the state.

House Bill 3, cross-filed as Senate Bill 233, would make the trade of flavored tobacco products — meaning any tobacco or nicotine-based product that has a taste other than tobacco — a misdemeanor crime punishable by fine or jail time. 

Under the bill’s definition, flavored tobacco would include menthol cigarettes. Turner’s letter largely focused on menthol cigarette prohibition.

Both bills had hearings in February.

“Very simply, I’m afraid that this approach will expand illegal activity,” Turner wrote before enumerating on a number of possible negative outcomes from the ban, including:

  • The creation of a “black market,” and subsequent increase in crime rates
  • A loss of revenue to menthol-carrying states, like Virginia and Delaware
  • An increase in youth smoking rates
  • The contamination of the bootleg cigarette supply, leading to health issues not unlike those seen in the health crisis induced by e-cigarettes last fall
  • The criminalization of people of color

Turner closed his letter by calling the potential menthol ban representative of “the wrong solution at the wrong time,” citing the success in the past few years surrounding the reduction of youth smoking rates based on cessation education and the recent decision in Maryland to increase the legal purchase of tobacco age from 18 to 21.

“I hope you’ll take a step back before approving rash measures like a menthol ban that have the potential to do far more harm than good,” he wrote.

In an interview last week, Turner said that he wrote this and other letters, including an opinion piece on pending Pimlico legislation published by The Daily Record, because from time to time he likes to remain involved.

Ex-Del. Frank Turner

He called it writing his “little letter and stir[ring] the pot a little bit.”

Turner served as a member of the Maryland House of Delegates for 24 years before retiring last year. He said that the letter was his idea and written of his own accord, but that he may have run his idea by someone unnamed.

As far as his list of hypotheses, Turner said that they’re just ideas based in historical data. He pointed to the aftermath of the alcohol prohibition of the 1920s, which created a black market for liquor, “and these black markets are unregulated black markets,” he said.

Turner suggested that when a product is banned, it creates “an underground economy,” and that to ban flavored tobacco products but not all products doesn’t make sense to him.

“You either need to ban it all or regulate it all,” he said.

“People are gonna do what they want to do, but I think if you’re gonna have the vaping at all you either need to regulate it or you need to ban it.”

During the interview, Turner admitted that he has been a smoker on and off for years. When asked what his smoke of choice was, he declined to comment.

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Ex-Lawmaker Attempts to ‘Stir the Pot A Little’ With Letter on Tobacco