Maryland sin taxes save lives

August 19, 2010

In his Commentary disparaging both Maryland's life-saving one dollar per pack tobacco tax increase enacted in 2008 and our proposed dime a drink alcohol tax increase ("Alcohol tax: Haven't we been here before?" Aug. 13), Mark Kilmer left out some very important facts. Most importantly, he omitted the fact that the tobacco tax increase resulted in 74 million fewer packs of cigarettes being sold in our state, which helped to give Maryland the sixth lowest smoking rate in the country. This saves tens of thousands of lives from preventable tobacco caused illness and death, and saves us all billions of dollars in health care costs.

Also, Maryland generated a substantial amount of new revenue from its $1 tobacco tax increase. Cigarette tax revenues collected in the 12 months following the Jan 1, 2008, $1 cigarette tax increase in MD were $126.9 million more than the 12 months prior to the increase - that's a 45.8% increase - and millions more in revenue that the state didn't have before.

And, Maryland used this money wisely, along with savings from uncompensated hospital care and federal matching dollars, to expand health care to over 200,000 parents, children and seniors. Contrary to Mr. Kilmer's dire prediction, President Barack Obama and Congress did pass legislation last week guaranteeing Maryland the extra federal matching money necessary to help fund this expansion through these tough economic times.

A dime a drink alcohol tax increase will produce similar benefits. According to a study completed last year by Professors David Jernigan and Hugh Waters of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public, our proposal will prevent 15,000 cases of alcohol abuse, stop nearly 400 acts of violence against women and children, and reduce state health care costs by $249 million dollars a year. As the Hopkins study explains, alcohol abuse costs Maryland about $5.2 billion annually, but a dime a drink alcohol tax increase would save lives (View the full study on our website, http://www.healthcareforall.com).

In addition, we propose to use the $214 million that will be raised by our proposed alcohol tax increase to fund health coverage for childless adults, the critical needs of people with developmental disabilities and mental health, addiction and prevention programs, and health care workforce needs. Without any support, Mr. Kilmer "predicts" that this $214 million estimate made by the Hopkins economists will not pan out.

In fact, the Hopkins experts based their revenue estimates on research that is consistently conservative. They assumed that alcohol consumption would fall as a result of the tax, and adjusted the revenue estimates accordingly. These estimates are based on a range of studies, covering 110 published studies measuring the relationship between alcohol prices and consumption.

Especially since Maryland's alcohol tax has not been raised since 1972 for beer and wine and 1955 for spirits, it is no wonder that, according to a recent poll conducted by respected pollsters Opinion Works, 71 percent of Maryland voters support the dime a drink alcohol tax increase.

Vincent DeMarco

The writer is president of the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative Education Fund

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