Cumberland Times-News

November 4, 2013

Expect a fight

State may raise tax on cigarettes even higher

Cumberland Times-News

— If the Maryland General Assembly approves another tax increase on cigarettes — this one $1 per pack — can an outright abolition of tobacco be far behind?

We ask that question somewhat facetiously, but the reality is that raising the tobacco tax time and again is tantamount to a virtual ban on the product.

Health advocates, of course, support sky-high taxes on tobacco. While there can be little argument that keeping people away from tobacco is a good thing for one’s health, at what point does the high taxation become a violation of civil rights for people who want to continue consuming tobacco?

Maryland Citizen’s Health Initiative is one of nearly a dozen health organizations supporting the $1 per pack tax hike, including the American Lung Association in Maryland, AARP and the American Heart Association.

According to a report released last week, raising the sales tax on cigarettes by $1 per pack in 2008 significantly reduced youth and adult smoking rates and increased state revenue by $126 million in one year.

“We’ve been thinking about (creating this report) ever since the law passed in 2008,” said Vincent DeMarco, president of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative. “The law accomplished its goal. Tobacco tax increases save lives.”

Approximately 16 percent of Maryland adults and 12 percent of youth smoke cigarettes regularly, costing the state nearly $2 billion annually in smoking-related health care bills, according to the report. Advocates for a higher tax are expected to pursue legislation in Annapolis in the coming year to accomplish their goal.

Maryland’s high tax on tobacco already has sent most smokers in our area across the state line into West Virginia to avoid paying the high tariff. Jacking up the price another $1 per pack will have little effect on a cigarette business that has already been killed off locally.

It will be interesting to listen to the debate in Annapolis when yet another tax hike is proposed. Health advocates will have a strong argument, but so, too, will be those lawmakers who think Maryland’s tobacco tax is already exhorbitant.