Bill seeks to double cigarette tax

Increase would be first since 30-cent rise in 1999

January 29, 2002|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

Some state lawmakers want to more than double Maryland's cigarette tax as part of a continued effort to reduce smoking and to generate as much as $200 million in revenue.

Under the legislation introduced last night by Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr., the cigarette tax would increase from 66 cents to $1.36, the first since legislators passed a 30-cent increase in 1999.

But that tax increase was led by Gov. Parris N. Glendening, who promised not to push for further increases in the tobacco tax after that.

In an election year, the proposal by Van Hollen and several other senators is given little chance of passage in the General Assembly.

Michael Morrill, a spokesman for the governor, said Glendening would sign the bill if the legislature passed it, but he will not be on the front lines supporting the measure. "He had made a commitment when the last increase went through that we would not come back on the tobacco tax," Morrill said.

The tobacco bill is the second contentious piece of legislation on which Van Hollen, a Montgomery County Democrat, is a lead sponsor. Last week, he co-sponsored a bill to require licensing of those who buy handguns and assault-style rifles.

The bills appear to be part of a safe community and pro-family agenda that Van Hollen is pushing as he seeks his party's nomination to challenge Republican Rep. Constance A. Morella for the 8th District congressional seat.

Del. Mark K. Shriver and Ira Shapiro, a former Clinton administration official, also are seeking the Democratic nomination.

Despite the difficult challenges, such organizations as the American Cancer Society and Smoke Free Maryland said yesterday they believe they can win the necessary support for the tobacco bill.

"This is a pro-health measure," said Michael Schwartzberg, a spokesman for the cancer society. "I would think legislators would be in favor of that."

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