By Emilie Eastman, Capital News Service
Top Maryland health advocates endorsed a proposal to increase state cigarette taxes by $1 per pack, in a report released Wednesday.
According to the report, 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."
Maryland Citizen’s Health Initiative was one of nearly a dozen health organizations supporting the study, including the American Lung Association in Maryland, AARP and the American Heart Association.
The supporters propose allocating revenue from the increased tax to health care programs, including the state tobacco prevention and cessation program, which saw funding cuts several years ago, according to the report.
Higher tobacco taxes have been a particular deterrent to young people, with youth smoking rates dropping nearly 30 percent following the 2008 increase, which raised the total tax to $2 per pack, according to the report.
The Rev. Fred Weimert agrees with this finding, and said he saw the effects of the tax first-hand with his two sons – both former smokers.
"It was economics that made them both stop," he said.
Weimert is the president of the Central Maryland Ecumenical Council, an interdenominational advocacy organization, and said he and his colleagues are concerned about the health and welfare of their communities. Weimert said he commonly receives the complaint that tobacco taxes are regressive, unfairly targeting low-income consumers.
"A lot of the people that smoke are poor, and that worries me," he said. But Weimert said the benefits of the tax outweigh the harm because smoking cessation leads to better health, and cigarette tax revenue cycles back into the health system.
"I think almost every religious leader realizes that," he said.
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 Wednesday’s report.
The push to raise the tax on cigarettes is supported by some lawmakers in the Maryland State House.
Delegate Eric Luedtke, D-Montgomery, introduced a bill last year that would increase tobacco tax rates and supplement funds for the Tobacco Use Prevention and Cessation Program.
He plans to reintroduce the proposal in the upcoming legislative session, he said.
"The evidence is incontrovertible," Luedtke said. "We’re hoping that the legislature realizes how important this issue is."