(CNSNews.com) - In what could be one of the first laws of its kind in America, a Maine legislator not only wants smokers in that state to pay a surcharge for every cigarette pack they buy in that state, but even wants smokers to redeem their cigarette butts for a nickel each.
Rep. Joseph Brooks, a Democrat, said his legislation, the "Returnable Butt Bill" is being modeled after Maine's bottle return law, which requires consumers to pay a 5-cent deposit on soft drink and beer bottles.
If enacted, the bill would require cigarette manufacturers to mark filters on each cigarette sold in Maine with 5-cent deposit notices. Smokers would pay an additional $1 a pack in deposits.
After smokers are done smoking their cigarettes, they would collect their cigarette butts and take them to bottle redemption centers. Clerks would inspect the butts to make sure they are properly marked for refunds.
Brooks bill also calls for the creation of a Returnable Tobacco Products Fund that would help disburse the money.
The Maine Legislature's Joint Business and Economic Development Committee, which is made up of 3 state senators and 10 state representatives, heard testimony Tuesday on Brooks' legislation. Most testimony in favor of the bill came from several hotel and restaurant owners. Critics think the bill is an idea that's unworkable, unhealthy and anti-business.
Brooks told the committee, "It's not a joke." He said his bill would reduce litter, fight pollution by removing plastic cigarette filters from the landscape, and discourage smoking by adding a dollar to the price of cigarettes.
One committee member, Rep. Harold Clough, a Republican, wasn't impressed and said he would probably vote "no" if the bill comes up before the legislature.
"I'm pretty much inclined to vote against it because it just doesn't seem like it makes a lot of sense to me to add a dollar a pack on cigarettes and then have the people, in order to get their dollar back, they have got to save the butt and keep it in their pocket until they accumulate 20 and put them in a bag and take them back," Clough said.
Clough also believes the committee will take action on Brooks' bill sometime next week.
Clough is also not sure about the motivation of those who are backing Brooks' bill.
"What they're talking about, and it concerns me, is that there would be about $100 million involved in deposits and that only 50 million of this money would be redeemed. Half the cigarette butts will still be laying on the sidewalk. It turns into a money bill, because they [start thinking] about all the things they can do with the extra $50 million. I'm not sure about the motivation of some people that are involved in this," Clough said.
Brooks believes the new revenue for the state from the butts - about $50 million a year - could be spent on state health, environmental or other programs.
Peter Daigle of Maine's Lafayette Hotels chain told the committee he favors the bill.
"We're offering what we think is a very reasonable solution to a problem that costs Mainers millions of dollars in cleanup costs. This is not a tax and it will not result in any additional expense to smokers if they choose to dispose of their cigarette butts properly," Daigle said.
Lyanne Cochi of the New England Convenience Store Association told the committee that Brooks' bill would create administrative problems and other headaches for retailers. She also thinks storage would be problematic; the higher prices would cut competition and create a financial hardship for the stores she represents.
"The lines created [by consumers redeeming butts] would pretty much negate the idea of a convenience store," Cochi said.
The R. J. Reynolds tobacco company is aware of the bill and believes there is a better way to handle cigarette litter in the environment.
"There's better ways to handle cigarette litter in the environment than by passing a major tax increase that smokers would ultimately have to pay. Clearly, as a company, we are environmentally responsible. We have worked with environmental organizations for many years and have a program called 'Smokers for a Clean America' where we make available, free of charge, a disposable type of ashtray," R.J. Reynolds spokesman John Singleton said from the company's headquarters in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
"We certainly agree," Singleton added, "that there should not be cigarette or any litter in the environment, but we think there's a better way to handle it than by imposing a tax increase. You would have rather complicated logistics for both the tobacco companies and the state for how this [bill] would be implemented."
Brooks could not be reached for further comment.