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Published on October 6th, 2011 | by Len Lazarick

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Campaign starts for another $1-a-pack tax hike on cigarettes

The folks who campaigned for the new 9% alcohol sales tax and the $2-a-pack cigarette tax are pushing for an additional $1-a-pack tax on cigarettes to help fund health care.

cigarette

Photo by Raul Lieberwerth

The Maryland Citizens Health Initiative, headed by Vinny DeMarco, is scheduled to announce today a new coalition of groups backing a 50% hike in the cigarette tax.

The tax hike would make Maryland’s cigarette tax rate double the national average, giving the state the 5th highest tax in the nation. It would still be below New York’s $4.35 a pack tax, the nation’s highest.

The increase is being supported by AARP and the state medical society, along with dozens of other health, progressive and church groups.

DeMarco says statistics based on health surveys show that Maryland’s successive increases in cigarette taxes have reduced smoking in the state by 32% since 1998. Nationally, smoking has declined by 15%.

In keeping with his usual lobbying strategy — laid out in last year’s how-to book The DeMarco Factor — DeMarco is assembling a broad coalition for the tax hike based on polls showing strong public support before the groups start lobbying legislators. But he said he has told lawmakers of his plans.

“A powerful coalition can succeed in overcoming the challenges,” DeMarco said.

Del. Sheila Hixson, chair of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee, proposed a $1-a-pack tax hike this year, but the bill did not make it out of her committee.

Industry groups opposing higher tobacco taxes say the taxes increase cross-border shopping and cigarette smuggling.

Virginia’s cigarette tax is just 30 cents a pack. West Virginia’s is 55 cents, Delaware and Pennsylvania are at $1.60, and the District of Columbia is $2.50.

DeMarco said that while cigarette sales in Maryland’s neighbor states have increased, they have not gone up as much as Maryland sales have declined. Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot also has  been leading a strong anti-smuggling effort, and many of those convicted are transporting the cigarettes to New York.

The coalition is not planning on pushing the tax hike in the upcoming special session on redistricting, but is hoping to pass it in 2012. If they are not successful then or in subsequent years, “We’re ready to make it an election issue in 2014,” DeMarco said.

—Len Lazarick
Len@MarylandReporter.com

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  • Joe

    How easily we forget what happened during Prohibition (1920-1936).

  • Kellygirl

    Not sure about the claim that the prior tax increases reduced Maryland smoking by 36%.  More likely is that it reduced purchases in Maryland, and many smokers traveled to Virginia to buy cigarettes.thereby adding to Virginia’s coffers.

  • Anonymous

    As usual, Mr. DeMarco touts claims he cannot back up. Other than noting the reduction of cigarette sales in MD resulting in less taxes being collected, does this automatically mean less people are smoking?  Yes & no. But as the taxes go higher, less $ will be collected to fund “health care”. Border state tax collectors & merchants will be sending thank you notes to DeMarco & the MD legislature if this proposal makes it into law. Just another example of the law of unintended consequences that riddle our daily lives.  

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