The Daily Times
February 18, 2014
By Jennifer Shutt

Supporters of a $1 cigarette tax increase say they have more support on the Lower Shore than people might expect.

The Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative sponsored a poll in January that showed 61 percent of District 38 voters support the proposed tax, while 32 percent oppose it and 7 percent are undecided.

Vincent DeMarco, president of Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, said the group polled statewide, but also looked specifically at District 38 on the Lower Shore, which covers sections of Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties.

“The importance of this poll shows in conservative areas, like the Eastern Shore, the support for a tobacco tax increase is very strong,” he said.

The poll, conducted by Opinion Works, also looked at statewide support for the proposal.

A total of 758 Maryland were asked about House Bill 443, which would increase the cigarette tax from $2 to $3 per pack. Statewide 64 percent favored the proposal, 32 percent opposed the change and 4 percent were undecided.

The breakdown, shows 250 or 32 percent of the people polled lived in legislative District 38.

The House bill will be heard in the Ways and Means Committee, and the Senate bill need to be voted out of Budget and Taxation; neither of which include representatives from District 38. The Senate bill, however, is also assigned to the Finance Committee, of which Sen. Jim Mathias, D-38-Worcester, is a member.

DeMarco said the goal of the poll wasn’t about getting committee votes, but showing the conventional wisdom isn’t always accurate.

He said the goal of the tax is to further reduce the number of Marylanders smoking.

“The thing you really want to do to reduce smoking is have a high tax, smoke-free workplace and fully fund the prevention program,” DeMarco said. “We don’t do that right now. Our proposals would ask we spend $21 million at least on tobacco prevention.”

Right now about $5 million is spent annually on anti-tobacco programs, but that numbers has been as high as $30 million in the past.

DeMarco pointed to a line chart that shows the number smokers decreasing as the state increased the cigarette tax.

He said while public awareness of the increased risk of lung cancer, heart disease, gum disease and the dozens of other illnesses that come with tobacco use are part of the reduction, money is also a factor.

Mary Ashanti, president of the Wicomico County NAACP, supports the proposal because it would help teach people about the health impacts of smoking and help to take care of those who have gotten sick because of smoking.

“The first reason is that money from the increase in the cigarette tax will go toward health care,” Ashanti said. “And those moneys also would help preventive types of training, in reference to teaching folks the ills of smoking what kind of damage it causes.”

If the bill becomes law, DeMarco and others expect it would decrease youth smoking by 10 percent, lead 23,000 adult smokers to quit and save millions in heath care costs.

Even with 57 co-sponsors in the House and 20 in the state Senate, DeMarco doesn’t think the new tax will pass this year. While the group pushes on, they are also planning for a new group of legislators after this November’s election.

“It’s unlikely to pass this year, but it’s going to pass next year,” he said.

No members of the Lower Shore delegation have signed on as co-sponsors.

Last modified: February 18, 2014