Maine House Rejects Cigarette Butt Deposit Bill

Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:27pm EDT
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( - A bill that would have created the nation's first cigarette butt deposit law was overwhelmingly rejected Tuesday by the Maine House. The sponsor, state Rep. Joseph Brooks, a Democrat, not only wanted smokers in that state to pay a surcharge for every cigarette pack they bought, but wanted Maine smokers to redeem their cigarette butts for a nickel each.
However, the House voted 107-29 against the bill, which also faces a Senate vote.

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.

The bill would have required 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.

"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 favored 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 said the Brooks' bill would create administrative problems and other headaches for retailers. She also thought 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 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 had no comment on the bill's defeat.

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