October 06, 2011 at 7:31 am
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.