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Health advocates seek increase in tobacco tax

Proposal seeks to raise cigarette fee to $3, among U.S. highest
BALTIMORE SUN
6:02 p.m. EDT, October 11, 2011
By Meredith Cohn and Annie Linskey

 

After successfully pushing a new dime-a-drink alcohol tax, health care advocates are advocating for a new $1 levy on tobacco.

That would bring the total to $3 for a pack of cigarettes, among the highest in the nation. But a coalition led by the Maryland Citizens Health Initiative say the tax hike would further deter smoking.

“To demonstrate how effective tobacco taxes are, smoking rates have declined by 32.6 percent between 1998 and 2009, saving 70,000 people from preventable tobacco-related death,” Vincent DeMarco, initiative president, said during a press conference Tuesday announcing the campaign.

The tobacco tax has been raised three times since 1999, the latest in 2007, and already a new tax is being rejected by leaders in Annapolis.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. said, “I think that particular tax has been raised as much as can be rationally explained or reasonably expected.”

And House Speaker Michael E. Busch said there is “no chance” that an increase to the tax would receive serious consideration in the 2012 legislative session.

“Tobacco is heavily taxed as it is,” said Busch, adding that smokers could merely drive to neighboring states to buy lower cost cigarettes.

But coalition members say money raised could go toward health care programs and further reduction in the smoking rate. In 2010, 15.2 percent of adults and 14.1 percent of high school students in Maryland were smokers, according to state data.

The state has been investing in recent years in cessation programs, including a quit-line, counseling and free nicotine replacement therapy, though the amount dropped with the souring economy. A statewide ban on smoking in the workplace also went into effect in 2008.

Nationally, tobacco use has also been dropping, though the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say smoking and secondhand smoke still cause 443,000 deaths and $96 billion in related disease annually.

That’s a cost of $10.47 a pack consumed when lost productivity is also considered. The average cost of a pack nationally is about $5.58.

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids reports that Maryland has the 11th highest tax, and only five states collect above $3 a pack.

More than 150 businesses, churches, health care groups and other organizations are supporting a tax so far, including the state medical society MedChi, AARP Maryland and the American Cancer Society.

“Only when the cost of a pack of cigarettes includes its healthcare costs to society will a smoker understand the true cost of this deadly habit,” said Dr. David Hexter, immediate past president of MedChi.

The alcohol tax passed in this year’s legislative session, and about 80 percent of the funds in the first year are slated for school construction with the remainder benefiting the developmentally disabled.