Fives years after Prince George's County lawmakers tried prohibiting the sale of cigars in packages of fewer than five, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled yesterday that only the state may regulate how cigars and other tobacco products are packaged.
"We're quite pleased with the decision," said Craig Williamson, president of the Cigar Association of America.
The CAA, as part of a group that included Altadis USA, Inc., John Middleton Co., Swedish Match North America Inc., Swisher International, Inc., and Century Distributors, Inc., had filed a court complaint five years ago challenging the packaging ordinances Prince George's County lawmakers signed into law.
The ordinances targeted not premium, hand-rolled cigars, but machine-made cigars. According to court documents, "the purpose of the ordinances, as set forth in their titles, was to prohibit the sale or other distribution of cigars ‘intended for use, or designed for use, in ingesting, inhaling or otherwise introducing marijuana, cocaine, hashish or hashish oil into the human body... .'"
The regulations had actually included language that exempted cigars retailing for more than $2.50 and sold in establishments that derive "at least 75 percent of its revenues, measured by average daily receipts, from the sale of non-cigarette tobacco products."
In his decision of Altadis, et al v. Prince George's County, Court of Appeals Judge John C. Eldridge concluded that Maryland state law preempts local law, meaning individual counties could not dictate tobacco packaging of any kind.