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Group will push for increased levy on cigars, other tobacco products

Cigarette tax lacks support in 2012, advocate says

GAZETTE
This story was corrected on Dec. 13, 2011. An explanation follows the story.
by Sarah Breitenbach, Staff Writer


A proponent of increasing Maryland’s tax on cigarettes doesn’t expect the proposal to get much support in the 2012 General Assembly, but he hopes lawmakers will see fit to raise the cost of cigars and other tobacco products.

Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, said political leaders in Annapolis aren’t interested in tackling a cigarette tax this year, but recent polling shows voters would support boosting taxes on other tobacco products.

Polling data, collected on behalf of DeMarco’s group by Maryland-based pollster OpinionWorks, suggest that 72 percent of voters would support — 54 percent, strongly — increasing the tax on the tobacco products to be comparable with Maryland’s current $2-per-pack cigarette tax.

DeMarco wants funds from a tax increase to be used for the state’s tobacco control program as well as community-health programs that target childhood obesity, longterm care for senior citizens and access to health services.

An excise tax on cigars and smokeless tobacco products wasn’t created until 1999, when the legislature imposed a tax at 15 percent of the wholesale price.

The tax on cigarettes was last raised by $1 in 2007.

Although cigarette smoking in Maryland has declined by 32 percent in the past decade, DeMarco argues that taxes on cigars and smokeless tobacco should be on par with the state’s cigarette tax.

“Youth use on those products has gone up so there’s an urgent need to do something now on cigars and smokeless [tobacco],” DeMarco said. “We understand the cigarette tax might take a little longer.”

Still, DeMarco hopes to see legislation introduced in 2012 that would target cigars and smokeless tobacco as well as cigarettes.

He expects Montgomery County lawmakers Del. Sheila E. Hixson (D-Dist. 20) of Silver Spring and Sen. Jennie M. Forehand (D-Dist. 17) ofRockville could sponsor the tax legislation.

Both legislators have sponsored versions of the bill in previous sessions.

Because he doesn’t expect lawmakers to go for a tax on cigarettes in 2012, DeMarco said his group will make the cigarette tax a campaign issue in 2014, asking General Assembly candidates to sign on to support the measure before voters even get to the polls.

That election-year tactic is one DeMarco routinely uses to get weight behind his issues.

In 2010, he asked potential lawmakers to commit to raising the state’s tax on alcohol.

Although his initial proposal stalled, the legislature eventually passed a 3-cent hike on the alcohol sales tax earlier this year.

 

The story had an incorrect figure for the percent of voters that would support increasing the tax on tobacco products.