Delegate Donna Christian-Christensen's efforts to have Congress repeal the ban on tobacco products marked for "export only" materialized Tuesday as Rep. Charles Rangel introduced the bill in the House.
"I intend to work with Congressman Rangel to get this bill passed into law as soon as possible," Christian-Christensen said in a release Wednesday.
The delegate had announced earlier this month that she was working with Rangel, the senior Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee and Joint Taxation Committee, to draft an amendment to a 1997 statute that prohibits the re-importation of U.S.-made, tax-free tobacco products bearing the "export only" label.
If approved by the committee, the bill will then have to go through the full legislative process.
Meantime, Christensen said she is still trying to persuade the administration to resolve the issue until the legislation goes through. She has appealed to President Clinton to suspend seizures until the matter can be appropriately addressed.
Tourists bringing tobacco products into the U. S. are now being stopped by U.S. Customs agents and having their cigarettes confiscated. The Source reported earlier this month that cruise ship passengers were being told that they would not be allowed to take home U. S. tobacco products purchased in the Virgin Islands.
The tobacco ban represents a loss of revenue to the V.I. estimated at up to $20 million per year. Dominick Codispot of West Indies Corp. said WICorp. pays the government $1 million a year in excise and gross receipts taxes on tobacco. Tourists are allowed to take home up to five cartons of cigarettes purchased in the territory without paying duty.
The conflict stems from a misleading interpretation of the 1997 statute, according to Peter Hiebert, a Washington, D.C., lawyer amd lobbyist for the territory. He terms it an "overly broad" reading of the law, which was not intended to affect tobacco purchases for personal use.