Fight Cancer, Tax Cigarettes

April 02, 1992

Parochial wrangles in the legislature were surmounted earlier this week, clearing the way for a 20-cent-a-pack tax hike for cigarettes, which has made it intact through House-Senate budget negotiations in Annapolis. The health of Marylanders must remain priority No. 1, and it is clear that this is a tax that will promote good health.

A portion of the $90 million raised by the tax would pay for TC broad initiative to educate young people about the dangers of the nicotine habit. In addition, that 20-cent-a-pack increase adds a potent new disincentive. Experience in Canada shows that high taxes discourage young people from buying cigarettes.

Another part of the initiative is directed toward those people who already smoke and contribute to the unacceptably high cancer death rates in Maryland. An estimated 600,000 Maryland citizens suffer from lung diseases, a large share of the cases related to smoking. The state's cancer death rates are the highest in the country, and so are its costs. That is money better spent helping to improve the quality of life for all Marylanders rather than fighting illnesses that could be prevented or avoided. Getting more Marylanders to stop smoking is thus a high priority.

A second proposal could help medical personnel deal with the cancers that do occur: centralizing the data on cancer occurrences around the state. Such a program could help health authorities spot unusual patterns in the cancer rates of particular communities, leading to earlier and better detection and more effective treatment for those who do fall victim of the disease. Again, that will save money in the long run. Instead of waging long, defensive struggles against entrenched and life-shortening cancers, the doctors could be prolonging lives by catching the illness in more treatable stages. And spotting dangerous patterns early enough might let them initiate steps that could prevent pre-conditions from worsening to full-blown cancers.

All of this argues for passage of the 20-cent-a-pack tax hike on cigarettes. Gov. William Donald Schaefer was right to speak up for it, for it is too important to get lost in legislative haggling over other budget issues.

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