Loudoun will join its surrounding states and localities in levying a tax on cigarettes, at the state-allowed maximum of 40 cents per pack, beginning Nov. 1.
The General Assembly this year gave the county the authority to levy taxes on cigarettes, plastic grocery bags and events tickets, and supervisors are working on taking advantage of all three. In the case of cigarettes, the county is catching up to towns, which already have the authority to levy a tax.
Supervisors have cited the effects of higher taxes on cigarettes to reduce smoking, particularly among young people, and the public health impacts of reducing smoking.
During the discussion at their Sept. 8 meeting, some supervisors sought to phase in the tax over time, in an attempt to dampen the impact on small, independent convenience stores. Some convenience store owners have written to the county board with concerns that the tax would hurt their business by chasing customers to neighboring jurisdictions. West Virginia and Maryland both tax cigarettes at a much higher rate, but Fairfax County imposes only a 30-cent tax, and Clarke County taxes them at 20 cents per pack.
Supervisor Michael R. Turner (D-Ashburn) asked the board to phase the tax in by 20-cent increments on Nov. 1 and Jan. 1, 2023, which he said was suggested by a store owner.
“Our small businesses have been through the ringer for the last 20 months. I thought it was a well-though-out request,” Turner said. “[…] I just think if we can do it in a way that is less painful for our small business owners in Loudoun County, then I would support that.”
Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) said the tax will more strongly affect small, independent convenience stores than larger chains, and said phasing in the tax would give them time to adapt, but only he and Turner supported phasing in the tax.
“Cigarettes are the only legal thing, when used completely as they’re supposed to be used, will kill you,” said County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large). “And with all due respect to convenience stores, to ask me to hold off a little bit longer on your little death sticks so that you can get a little bit more money and change your business model, is not something that I think is okay to even ask for me to do, to be quite honest.”
Already most of Loudoun’s towns tax cigarette sales, with Hamilton the exception. The local taxes are not permitted to stack—in other words, in towns that already have a cigarette tax, the county tax will not apply.
Supervisors approved the new tax 6-0-1-2, with Letourneau abstaining and Supervisors Caleb E. Kershner (R-Catoctin) and Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) absent. County staff members will now work out a final agreement with the Virginia Cigarette Tax Board for the administration of the cigarette tax, enforcement efforts, and revenue collection, and return to supervisors at a future meeting to approve that agreement.