Raleigh, N.C. — A bill that would have created a new cigarette trafficking crime was stubbed out before it could be introduced Wednesday.
The bill filing deadline has long passed for most measures in the state House. But the House Rules Committee can still file bills if the need arises. Typically, such an introduction is a ministerial matter for the committee, meriting little discussion once the measure has been vetted by the chairman.
So it was something of a surprise when Rep. Leo Daughtry, R-Johnston, piped up against the proposed introduction of the cigarette tracking bill.
"No, there's not a motion, I'm opposed to the bill," Daughtry declared. "A number of people go through Johnston County going to New York or Florida or wherever they're going, and I want them to buy 25 (cartons), and I don't want them to be considered a criminal either."
Daughtry's district is home to JR's, an outlet store off of Interstate 95 that sells, among other things, cigarettes. Daughtry cited JR's and other outlets as a reason to oppose the measure.
Under the bill, there would be a presumption that someone is trafficking cigarettes for sale elsewhere if they had at least 25 cartons, which amounts to 5,000 cigarettes. According to one committee member, that number was chosen because 24 cartons come in a case from cigarette manufacturers.
"Even I smoke, and I don't need 25 cartons," said Rep. Linda Johnson, R-Cabarrus.
Cigarettes sold in North Carolina don't bear tax stamps. Combined with the relatively low tobacco tax here, that fact makes them attractive for black market sales in other jurisdictions, where taxes are higher. This black market is both bad from a public relations standpoint and bad for business, so bills cracking down on trafficking tend to have support from cigarette companies as well as law enforcement.
The language in Johnson's bill mirrors the law in Virginia.
But Daughtry's vociferous objection seemed to sway the committee, and Johnson withdrew the bill rather than risking a vote.
Even if the committee decides to introduce the bill at a later time, its chances may not improve. The measure would have gone to the House Judiciary Committee, where Daughtry is the chairman.