WASHINGTON – A New Jersey Democrat wants to clear the air in the U.S. Senate by banning the sale of all tobacco products at sundry shops in the Senate complex.
Frank Lautenberg, who wrote the law banning smoking on commercial airlines, sent a letter Monday to the Senate's food service management office, saying selling tobacco products is inconsistent with the Senate's commitment to protecting the public's health.
Tobacco products are currently sold at Senate sundry shops at a discount because no state excise or sales taxes are applied.
"Selling cigarettes free of state taxes encourages tourists and local residents to shop for cigarettes in the Senate where they can buy them at a discount," Lautenberg said. "The United States Senate must stop operating as a discount cigarette outlet."
The District of Columbia and the state of Maryland impose excise taxes of $1 per pack on cigarettes in addition to the sales tax, Lautenberg noted.
He added that a 21-year-old intern in his office bought a pack of cigarettes at a Senate shop without showing identification, but was asked for ID when she went across the street to another store. Stores are supposed to ask for ID for cigarette purchases if the customer does not appear to be at least 27 years old.
Lautenberg and Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., led the fight to ban smoking in the Senate. The two senators were joined in the effort to ban the sale of tobacco products in the Senate by Democrats Tom Harkin of Iowa, Jack Reed of Rhode Island and Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts.