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Crime commission plans could raise price of cigarettes — over ‘terrorism’

Posted at 7:52 PM, Dec 02, 2014
and last updated 2014-12-02 19:52:11-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia's top crime commission wants the state to regulate cigarettes like it does alcohol.

In an 8-5 vote that pitted both Democrats and Republicans against their own party members, the Virginia State Crime Commission voted to recommend a new law that would require stores selling cigarettes to get a state license from the ABC Board.

The proposal still needs General Assembly approval, with licenses slated to cost businesses hundreds of dollars.

The purposed cigarette regulation is in response to this crime commission report which said Virginia's cheap tobacco taxes contribute indirectly to terrorist groups like Hamas.

With a second lowest cigarette tax in the nation, out of state people often travel to Virginia to buy cigarettes that they sell elsewhere for a big profit.

"We know, those of us who sit on this panel, we know where these funds are going and they are going overseas to hurt our loved ones in uniform," State Senator Bryce Reeves said in support of the measure.

Other members of the commission were skeptical and said regulating businesses will not halt in-state cigarette trafficking.

"If you want to fix it, you need New York to lower their tax, or us to raise our tax," Delegate Manoli Loupassi said.

"We've been selling cigarettes without a license for years, why do we need to start now?" said Monical Umair, who along with her husband, helps run Shockoe Valley Market in Shockoe Bottom.

Umair is furious with the proposal and said it could force some shops to stop selling cigarettes, or at the very least pass the cost onto customers. Umair said cigarettes do not yield as much profit as alcohol.

"It's going to cost us we got to make up for it somehow," Umair said.

Mike O'Connor, with the Virginia Petroleum Convenience and Grocery Association, said convenience stores are preparing a fight against this measure. He said the commission is reporting inaccurate facts.

"We will revisit this in January," O'Connor said.

Thirty-six other states in the United States currently regulate cigarette sales.