Taxing times for tobacco Paying more to smoke: 31 states have raised levies on cigarettes

Maryland should follow.

November 16, 1997

TOBACCO INTERESTS are taking it on the chin. Not only is the industry under siege in the courts and in Congress, but state legislatures are using public sentiment against smoking to approve hefty hikes in local cigarette taxes.

Over the past four years, 31 states have raised tobacco taxes. Eight states have imposed hikes of 50 percent or more; 18 more have upped their local levy by at least 30 percent. Maryland, though, has yet to join in this taxing development: Its 36-cents-a-pack levy ranks No. 22 among the 50 states; 21 states have higher charges on cigarettes.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening tried to double the current state levy to 72 cents a pack last spring. But that move ran into determined opposition, especially from Senate President Mike Miller and savvy lawmakers from Southern Maryland, where tobacco is still raised.

Will the governor try again this coming year? He definitely ought to give it a second try, especially if the proceeds are earmarked for programs aimed at reducing youth smoking. In an election year, this would be a popular position for Mr. Glendening; a recent poll showed that two-thirds of those asked supported a whopping $1.50 cigarette tax increase.

Equally telling were poll responses indicating voters would desert incumbents who oppose higher cigarette taxes aimed at cutting teen smoking. This is especially true of Democratic women, Democrats under 45 and Democrats who are African Americans: By overwhelming numbers they said they would vote for a Republican over a Democratic incumbent who supported the tobacco industry's position.

Mr. Glendening has made it clear that he personally finds cigarette-smoking a tragic, life-threatening habit. Though he may be reluctant to take on Senator Miller once again, it is worth another try. Mr. Miller is not invincible. Democratic senators in marginal districts may press the Senate president to moderate his stance in an election year so they can vote for a tobacco tax increase that appeals to voters.

Other states are attempting to discourage teen smoking through higher taxation. Studies show a marked decrease in cigarette use among youths when taxes are raised substantially. Maryland ought to try it. The next step is up to Mr. Glendening in January.

Pub Date: 11/16/97

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