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Tobacco giant makes its mark on D.C. smoking legislation

The largest tobacco manufacturer in the United States is supporting a D.C. Council proposal that would limit the sale of some tobacco products and regulate where people can smoke.

Representatives from Altria Group Inc., owner of tobacco giant Philip Morris, testified at a council hearing Tuesday that they were backing a bill that contained a slew of provisions.

In fact, Altria lobbyist Mary Eva Canton drafted the majority of the legislation, at-large Councilman Phil Mendelson told The Examiner. And the day he introduced the bill, Mendelson received a $500 campaign contribution from Canton.

"That's the problem when you work with friends and they have suggestions," Mendelson said. "It all gets into the mix."

Among its 10 provisions, the bill would:

-- ban the sale of single cigars, except in tobacco shops;

-- set weight-based requirements for the number of cigars per package;

-- and require all tobacco products be sold from behind the counter.

But the head of the Cigar Association of America said Altria would benefit while those provisions would leave the rest of the cigar industry suffering.

Altria's Black and Mild are the nation's top-selling cigars and control almost a quarter of the market. Because they're sold in five-packs, CAA President Norman Sharp said the ban on single cigars would boost Black and Mild sales.

Additionally, the proposed weight standards would allow the company to put all of its cigars in two-packs -- the minimum requirement.

The company also contracts with retailers to gain prime real estate on behind-the-counter shelves. Although that would benefit Altria, the move would hurt sales of other cigar brands, Sharp said.

"The product becomes invisible. The cigar industry loses an important marketing tool," he said.

After hearing how the bill could benefit Altria, Mendelson said he was "not happy."

Altria's Canton, meanwhile, maintained that bill's sole purpose was to keep underage users from getting tobacco products. She said she also didn't remember when exactly she had made a campaign donation to the councilman.

Mendelson said there would be changes to the bill, and that he didn't approve of the weight-based packaging requirements.

The council will accept feedback on the bill until Oct. 13.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Source: Washington Examiner

Tobacco giant makes its mark on D.C. smoking legislation