Advocates urge increase of Maryland's tobacco tax – WBAL Baltimore

Health advocates are urging lawmakers to back their call for a higher tobacco tax, saying an extra dollar a pack will reduce teen smoking rates.

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Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative advocates contend that raising the tax is really a health issue and not a means to generate revenue.

“Cigarette smoking has dropped almost 32 percent — almost double the national average — (and) saved tens of thousands of lives. We need to build on that progress, and the money from the tobacco tax has been used to expand health care for hundreds of thousands of people. We need to build on that progress,” said Vincent DeMarco, president of Health Care for All.

State House candidates are being asked to sign a pledge supporting an increase in the state tobacco tax. Raising it by $1 would mean smokers would pay $7 a pack, putting cigarettes a little further out of the price range for first-timers.

“Something that we have found that was just spine-chilling was that every day, 3,900 students under the age of 18 are trying a cigarette for the first time. These students are getting their licenses for the first time, doing college visits for the first time, they’re also trying cigarettes for the first time, and 950 of those students will become every-day regular smokers,” said Devan Ogburn, president of the Maryland Association of Student Councils.

Doctors consider smoking a pediatric disease.

“Not only does it affect children when they’re exposed to secondhand smoke, but the vast majority of smokers start before the age of 18,” said Dr. Scott Krugman, vice president of the Maryland Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The strategy has been used successfully in the past. The General Assembly didn’t act on an increase in the tobacco tax this year, so advocates have turned it into a campaign issue.

“This is smart public policy. It keeps people from smoking, it keeps young people from being addicted, it provides health care service to people who need it,” said Sen. Richard Madaleno, D-Montgomery County.

More than 900 organizations, businesses and religious groups back the campaign. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People supports the campaign because it funds health care programs.

Candidates will have until May 23 to respond. From then until primary day, advocates will reveal who’s for and against raising the tobacco tax through media and grass-roots organizations. It is expected to become an issue during the 2015 legislative session.

The state last raised its cigarette tax in 2008.

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