A special session of the legislature is definitely needed to prevent the disastrous "doomsday budget" from taking effect — but it is also needed to enact the life-saving tobacco tax increase, which like the proposed income tax increase failed to gain final General Assembly approval by midnight on April 9. The House and Senate revenue conferees had agreed that the tax on little cigars should be increased from its very low present rate of 15 percent of the wholesale price (which was comparable to the 1999 cigarette tax of 36 cents per pack) to 70 percent and that the tax on smokeless (chew or spit) tobacco should go from 15 percent to 30 percent. While the tax on smokeless tobacco was not as high as Gov.Martin O'Malleyhad proposed or we had wanted, the General Assembly should enact at least what the conferees agreed upon.
Over the past 10 years, cigarette smoking has dropped by 32 percent in Maryland (double the national average) largely because of our three increases in the state cigarette tax. That has saved the lives of more than 70,000 Marylanders from early, preventable tobacco-caused death. However, we have not raised the tax on little cigars and smokeless tobacco since 1999, and youth use of these deadly products has increased. By enacting the life-saving tobacco tax increase which Governor O'Malley proposed and both the Senate and House of Delegates had separately passed, we can now make the same progress in reducing teen addiction to little cigars and smokeless tobacco. These increases will be a tremendous public health victory for Maryland by saving thousands of young people from addiction to these deadly products and by raising more than $20 million that can be used to help fund critical health care and public health needs.
Vincent DeMarco, Baltimore
The writer is president of the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative.