Anti-smoking group opens drive to raise cigarette tax

December 04, 1997|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

A trio of health advocacy groups joined the Maryland State Teachers Association yesterday to launch a drive to increase Maryland's cigarette tax by $1.50 a pack in an effort to curb teen-age smoking.

The Maryland Children's Initiative -- a creation of the MSTA, Smoke Free Maryland, Advocates for Children and Youth and the Safe and Sound Campaign -- set a goal of enlisting an additional 100 organizations in its campaign to raise the tax.

Vinnie DeMarco, president of the initiative group, said that if the General Assembly does not pass such a tax increase during the 90-day session that begins in January, his organization will make it a major issue in November's election.

He noted a September poll -- paid for by the Abell Foundation and the MSTA -- showing that 62 percent of Marylanders would support such an increase.

A modest effort by Gov. Parris N. Glendening to double the 36-cents-a-pack tax on cigarettes failed this year. But DeMarco, a longtime gun-control activist and new recruit to the anti-tobacco cause, predicted the dynamic would be changed next year.

"The difference is that the people of Maryland are demanding it," he said.

The coalition said a tax increase would not only cut into smoking among teen-agers but could yield an additional $300 million a year to finance programs serving children.

The American Cancer Society has estimated that every 10 percent increase in the cost of cigarettes could reduce teen-age smoking by 10 percent. The tobacco industry, however, contends that a decrease in legal sales would be largely offset by increased smuggling.

Maryland cigarette prices are about $2 higher for a 10-pack carton than in Virginia, Delaware and West Virginia. Increasing the tax by $1.50 a pack would give Maryland the highest tobacco tax in the country, officials said.

Pub Date: 12/04/97

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