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Campaign launched to raise tobacco taxes in Maryland

The Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative has launched a campaign to raise taxes on all tobacco products in Maryland. Cigarette prices would increase by $1 per pack, and other tobacco taxes would increase at a corresponding rate.

More than 150 faith, community and health organizations have already endorsed the proposed tax, including the AARP, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People of Maryland, MedChi, the state’s medical society, and the American Cancer Society.

The tobacco tax revenue would fund various state health-related programs, including tobacco control programs and improved health care access for Maryland families.

“Not only is this good policy, it’s good politics,” said Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative. “We all will benefit.”

Tobacco lobbyist Bruce Bereano disagreed, and said the tax hike on tobacco is discriminatory and unwarranted.

“Smoking is legal and lawful among adults in Maryland. If that’s going to continue and be left as a personal decision among adults, then let’s stop hassling and intimidating and jerking around adult smokers,” Bereano said. “Enough is enough.”

Maryland last raised taxes on non-cigarette tobacco in 1999. Cigarette taxes have been raised several times since then, most recently by $1 a pack in January 2008.

The tobacco tax campaign comes only a few months after the Health Initiative successfully lobbied to raise the tax on alcohol in April.

DeMarco said that raising the cost of tobacco saves both lives and money. Smoking rates in Maryland declined by 32.6 percent between 1998 and 2009, which was double the national average. DeMarco said the decrease in smoking saved more than 70,000 lives and hundreds of millions of dollars in health care costs.

The current tax increase would not be the end of the campaign. Tobacco tax advocates would like Maryland to become a smoke-free state.

Bereano contended that raising the tobacco tax actually costs the state money because smokers leave the state to buy tobacco.

“It’s not going to stop smoking in Maryland,” he said. “[The smokers] are just going to be driven further from the state of Maryland to buy their smokes, and they’ll buy their bread and butter and other things there. Maryland will lose revenue, it makes no sense fiscally.”

Bereano said the people who may get hit hardest by the tax are people in cities who don’t have personal transportation and cannot go elsewhere to buy tobacco.

DeMarco said the Health Initiative will continue to advocate for the tobacco tax if the legislature does not pass the increase in next year’s session.

“If the legislature doesn’t pass it, we are ready to make this a top issue in the 2014 election,” DeMarco said.

3 comments

  1. I was searching online for information about Maryland while considering relocating there. I am currently leaving NYC and am looking for something… quieter. Appears I will be looking further south. I am an on and off smoker, but whether (currently) smoking or not I cannot stand the blatant discrimination. Legislating through the tax code is just wrong. If you can’t change people’s minds then just “force” them to do what “you think” is best for them. Yeah, that’s American…

  2. If they really cared as much as they say they do, they’d simply enact a bill to make selling cigarettes illegal in Maryland and to ban smoking them on any public property. But that won’t raise revenue, will it? Maybe the $1.00 tax isn’t really about a “stop smoking” effort, but just an effort to bridge the gap in revenue that the state has lost because more people have stopped smoking, and thus, cigarette sales are way down.
    I’m not a smoker and never have smoked – and I can’t stand the smell of it. But enough with increasing taxes on a segment of the population that’s doing something LEGAL, just because they’re an easy target.
    By the way, if the real interest is to stop cigarette sales, why not just impose a hefty tax on any store that sells them?

  3. I hate to make comparisons like this: but I feel {and this is coming from a NON smoker}, that cigarette smokers are being singled out like the poor Jewish people were singled out in Nazi Germany…….

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