Tobacco Wars

February 09, 1992

Maryland's No. 1 -- in cancer. Yes, the highest incidence of this often fatal disease in the 50 states is found right here. In an important sub-category, Maryland ranks No. 5 in terms of lung cancer, a form of the disease that can be traced to cigarette smoking 80 to 90 percent of the time.

What's the tobacco lobby's response in Annapolis? To parade a ludicrous "smokers' rights bill" before legislators, hiring some of the most expensive and prestigious ex-legislators and lobbyists to throw up a smoke screen that masks the true intent of the legislation -- all this, to kill the Schaefer administration's efforts to crack down on smoking and to raise the cigarette tax.

Maryland's No. 1 cancer ranking for 1992, from the American Cancer Society, highlights why Gov. William Donald Schaefer is so intent on pursuing his anti-smoking measures. It is estimated that 2,900 Marylanders will die of lung cancer this year and

another 3,300 will contract the disease. In the vast majority of cases, the cause of the lung cancer can be traced directly to tobacco-smoking.

Maryland pays $1 billion a year in smoking-related health costs, yet the taxes on tobacco products raise only $56 million. With a $1.2 billion deficit facing state legislators, a 25-cent hike in the cigarette tax seems appropriate. In fact, this increase may not be enough to achieve another key goal -- deterring youngsters from smoking.

Researchers in Canada found that country's tough anti-smoking laws cut teen smoking by one-third in a 14-year period. Canadian laws ban all cigarette advertising and bar public smoking. Most important, Canada imposes a heavy tax on cigarettes -- $4.78 a pack, sending the price tag for a carton of smokes into the stratosphere -- $68.

The result? Kids have been discouraged from smoking. In

Ontario, the reduction in smoking among 12-year-olds was an astounding 70 percent (and a 17 percent reduction overall).

Given Maryland's high cancer rate and smoking's ties to most lung cancers, legislators should consider going beyond the governor's plan to impose a far higher tax. Not only would this bring in more revenue, which is sorely needed, it would act as a stiff deterrent to kids who want to smoke.

Governor Schaefer wants to use part of this new revenue to underwrite cancer research and to embark on a no-smoking advertising campaign. This would be money well spent. Our advice to legislators: Beware of the deceptive lobbying tactics of the tobacco lobby. Maryland has a major health problem it isn't adequately addressing. The governor's initiatives give legislators a chance to start doing something constructive to help erase Maryland's image as the cancer center of the nation.

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