Some Residents Find Sales Tax On Cigarettes A Drag

Typical Countian To Pay $12 More A Year In Snack Levies

June 09, 1991|By June Kurtz | June Kurtz,Contributing writer

For the first time in more than a decade, Carroll residents are paying sales tax on cigarettes.

Cigarettes were subject to Maryland's 5 percent sales tax until 1980, when the General Assembly raised the excise tax from 10 cents to 13 cents. Legislators removed the sales tax as a concession to the tobacco industry, said Marvin A. Bond, assistant state comptroller.

The reinstated 5 percent tax, coupled with another 3-cent increase in the excise tax on a pack of cigarettes, bumped up the cost of a pack by 12 or 13 cents.

Based on the state's estimate of revenue from the new tax laws adopted by the 1991 General Assembly, a typical county resident will pay an additional $12.13 in "snack taxes" next year.

But Carroll residents probably will pay less in new taxes than other Marylanders because the county has fewer businesses affected by changes in the law than other parts of the state, Bond said.

Nevertheless, county residents do not care a straw for the new taxes.

"People are not very happy about it," said Rebecca K. Nevells, a cashier at the 7-Eleven on Route 140 in Westminster. "Now you're getting taxed twice for your cigarettes."

Nevells, a Taneytown resident,said many customers at the convenience store "don't consider cigarettes a luxury item."

Sam L. McFadden, a 32-year-old Westminster resident, said the taxes were directed at cigarettes because of their addictive nature.

"It's an easy target to get more money for the state," McFadden said.

Nevells, 23, said she's met with "a lot of disgusted looks" from people who must hand over $2.05 for cigarettes that cost 15 cents less before the tax increase went into effect June 1.The convenience store added 2 cents to the 13-cent tax increase on their cigarettes to make it easier for cashiers to make change, said store manager Dave A. Nevells, 25, of Taneytown.

Some say the taxeswere aimed at the working class.

"It stinks. The lower middle class are the ones that keep the tobacco companies in business," Roger L. Smith said. "There's other ways they (government) can come up with money."

The 30-year-old Westminster resident suggested that instead of raising cigarette taxes, government salaries should be cut.

Matt D. Riccio, 48, of Altoona, Pa., agreed that the taxes were too high but said, "What are you going to do?"

Another shopper had an answer: "I'm quitting," said Hampstead resident Ron W. Brown, who has smoked cigarettes for 28 of his 41 years.

Increased cigarette taxesare only one of the changes made in the state tax law to raise an estimated $58 million for the sluggish Maryland economy.

Soft drinkssold in cups are no longer considered food and are subject to the same taxes as their canned and bottled counterparts. Schools, colleges and hospitals whose food sales are exempt must also collect the cup tax.

Now, thirsty county residents who buy a large, 95-cent soda ona sweltering summer afternoon do not have to worry about change rattling around in their pockets. The drink will cost them $1 even. And they'll pay 53 cents for a 50-cent soda.

But many customers absorbed the increase with a shrug.

"I just come in with a dollar and walk out with whatever they give," said 22-year-old Chris H. Miller of Hanover, Pa.

In addition, the legislators expanded the taxes on carry-out food. Previously, prepared food from stores without any tablesor booths was not taxed. But now, if you're picking up a pizza from your favorite carry-out store, remember to bring enough dough, because the pie is subject to the state's 5 percent sales tax.

Klaus R. Baumgart, owner of K B's Carry Out in Finksburg, said the taxes will not have much impact on his sandwich business.

"You might get someinitial comments, but I don't think it'll make much difference," Baumgart said. "It doesn't matter whether it is on gas or food, eventually everybody pays for it somewhere."

One exemption from the carry-out law remains in effect -- there is no tax on crabs, as long as they are not eaten at the restaurant that sold them. Other seafood itemsare taxed if they are cooked but not taxed if they are raw carry-outitems.

"That exemption has been in the sales tax since it was enacted," said Bond. The unusual exception was made in 1946 as a boon toMaryland's seafood industry, he said.

The new law also decreased the minimum cost of a taxable food item from $1 to 20 cents. That means if you stop at the office coffee shop for a quick breakfast, you will be taxed on anything that costs more than 20 cents.

Vending machine items also will be taxed.

Brom I. Watkins Jr., owner of Watkins Vending Inc. and Westminster Coffee Caterers, said his companies have nearly 270 snack, soda and cigarette machines in Carroll, Frederick and Baltimore counties.

"Most of my machines are in working environments," he said, adding that 80 percent of his patrons are blue-collar workers who depend on the machines for a quick snack or lunch."It's a captive audience."

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