Maine Lawmaker Vows To Keep Fighting For Passage Of Cigarette Butt Bill

July 7, 2008 - 8:27 PM

(CNSNews.com) - Despite its defeat in the legislature, Maine Democratic Rep. Joseph Brooks has put America's cigarette companies on notice that his bill that would have created the nation's first cigarette butt deposit law will be considered by the legislature again.

The bill was defeated 107-29 in the Maine House of Representatives. It was defeated Wednesday in the state Senate.

But the defeats are not stopping Brooks.

"We did establish a 15-member commission to study litter and the tobacco industry was put on notice, that if we don't come up with an answer by January. This bill will be back. We will do it in earnest. The bill is not over, even though it died in the House. But the idea has been carried over to January, not the bill but the idea," Brooks told CNSNews.com in a statement.

Brooks added, "So, we will be working on that this summer and this fall in cooperation with two of the tobacco manufacturers - R.J. Reynolds and Phillip Morris - along with several state legislators and others, hoping to come up with a solution to our litter problem in Maine."

Brooks 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.

Brooks believed 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."