Over the past year, Marylanders have stepped up to protect our families and our neighbors from the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. We’ve stayed home, kept our distance, worn our masks, and gotten vaccinated to stop the spread of this disease that can devastate the lungs. We’ve done this for the benefit of our communities and because it’s the right thing to do.
This year, the Maryland General Assembly has a similar opportunity to step up and protect our residents from a different but equally deadly threat to our health – tobacco use. By overriding Gov. Hogan’s veto of the first tobacco tax increase in 13 years, the General Assembly can save lives, improve health, and boost our economy. It’s an opportunity they must not pass up.
After decades of aggressive marketing to our kids and communities of color, Big Tobacco has succeeded in exploiting our health for profit, with deadly consequences. One in four cancer deaths in Maryland is linked to smoking, and 7,500 residents die each year from tobacco-related causes. With the CDC naming smoking and e-cigarette use as a risk factor for developing severe illness from COVID-19, now is the time to reduce tobacco use in our communities.
Higher cigarette prices save lives
The data tells us that significant and regular increases in the price of tobacco reduce tobacco use and save lives. How? Smoking rates go down when the price of cigarettes goes up. Most people start when they’re young, and they’re less likely to start if the price is higher. Time and again, we have seen that states with the most significant tax increases have seen the largest declines in smoking rates for both kids and adults.
Tobacco taxes do more than reduce smoking rates – they help fund critical state programs, including those that take a proactive stance to combat tobacco addiction. The tobacco tax increase passed by the General Assembly last year is projected to raise over $95 million in revenue for the state and reduce the long-term health care costs from adult and youth smoking by more than $973 million. Revenue from the tobacco tax increase will offset costs associated with COVID-19 and provide earmarked funding for Maryland’s critical Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Program.In May 2020, Governor Hogan vetoed legislation that would have raised Maryland’s tobacco taxes for the first time since 2008. The policy includes a $1.75 per pack increase on cigarettes and, for the first time, a tax on electronic smoking devices (e-cigarettes). The $1.75 per pack cigarette tax increase alone could prevent 15,300 Maryland kids from becoming adult smokers and help 32,600 adults quit.
Abandoning this proven public health policy that saves lives and raises revenue, especially during a pandemic that attacks the lungs, would be a monumental public health failure. I urge our state lawmakers to use their power to save thousands of lives in towns and cities across Maryland by overriding the Governor’s veto and increasing Maryland’s tobacco taxes. It’s an opportunity we can’t afford to miss.
[Editor’s note: The tobacco tax hike legislation also includes the new digital advertising tax. The House overrode the governor’s veto Thursday afternoon by a vote of 88-48. The Senate is expected to take it up Friday.]