Buying cigars over the Internet or by mail order is now against the law in Maryland. State lawmakers prohibited that form of sale for all tobacco products in a move intended to more effectively collect tobacco taxes in the state.
The law, called HB 88, went into effect on May 1. It was passed by the State House and Senate last year before being signed off by Governor Martin O'Malley. A bulletin from the Maryland comptroller's office summarized the law, defining premium cigars as part of the larger "OTP" category (Other Tobacco Products), clearly stating: "The purchase and sale of OTP by mail or over the Internet is prohibited."
The move has been controversial, and subsequent public outcry prompted Field Enforcement Division Director Jeffrey A. Kelly to release a statement on May 11 in its defense. "The intent of HB 88 was to strengthen Maryland's ability to identify and prevent widespread occurrences of tax avoidance and smuggling of other tobacco products (OTP), which include cigars, little cigars, pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco and moist snuff. For years, contraband OTP-on which the tobacco tax has not been paid but is due-entered Maryland in a variety of manners, virtually unrestricted and unregulated."
Kelly's open letter also dispels any "erroneous" notions that the new law was instated to protect Maryland's retail cigar stores.
"One reason this bill was needed is because certain retailers have purchased and sold contraband OTP illegally and the prosecution of these retailers under previous law was difficult at best."
Kelly acknowledged the "unanticipated consequences" of the law, and its affect on Internet consumers, noting the state's growing number of cigar-smokers and verbalizing the intention to keep their business within Maryland.
Cigar Aficionado tried on multiple occasions to contact some of Maryland's more prominent tobacconists, but none offered comment. However, Holt's Cigar Co., a large online and catalog business based out of Pennsylvania, did issue a very strongly worded mass email to all its customers:
"As a Maryland resident, you should be outraged," the email says, calling the law unconstitutional, anti-freedom, anti-choice and wholly un-American. "If you live in a rural area without a cigar store within reasonable traveling distance, you are basically denied access to cigars, period."
In a recent development, Delegate Michael Smigiel (R) told the Baltimore Sun (which has dubbed this new law "cigar gate") that he will use the rare fall General Assembly meeting to introduce legislation ending the state's new ban on premium cigar shipments.
The state seems to be receptive. Christine Feldmann, the Comptroller's Deputy Director, Office of Communications told Cigar Aficionado that the Comptroller's Office intends to work with the Maryland General Assembly on a legislative remedy for this issue "that would address the need for tax fairness while allowing consumers more choice. This issue is surely not over," she said.