ANNAPOLIS – The American Cancer Society provided a forum Tuesday for two Maryland lawmakers to launch an attack on underage smoking.
At a press conference announcing the results of a poll on citizens’ attitudes toward raising the cigarette tax, two members of the House of Delegates touted legislation that would restrict children’s access to tobacco.
Del. Barbara Frush, D-Prince George’s, and Del. Dan K. Morhaim, D-Baltimore County, hope that higher prices and the elimination of vending machine sales will take cigarettes out of the reach of young people.
Robert Tousey, a spokesman for the Maryland Council of the American Cancer Society, said there was broad public support for a cigarette tax increase. That support, he added, crossed regional, ethnic and political boundaries.
Seventy-three percent of participants in the statewide telephone poll supported a tax increase. On the Eastern Shore and in Southern Maryland — regions combined for the survey analysis — support fell to 58 percent, the lowest in the survey. Support was highest — 78 percent of those surveyed — in Montgomery County and the central Maryland suburbs of Howard and Anne Arundel counties.
The poll, conducted Jan. 7-10 by Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research, was of a random sample of 803 registered voters, 84 percent of whom said they were non-smokers. The margin of error was plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, meaning that results would not have varied by more than that were the entire state population surveyed.
Those favoring an increase were asked about increases ranging from 25 cents per pack to more than $1.50. The largest hypothetical tax increase, more than $1.50, was supported by 30 percent. Increases of less than $1 got the combined support of 57 percent.
Del. Barbara Frush, D-Prince George’s, is sponsoring a bill that would raise the cigarette tax by $1. This is a 280 percent increase over the current 36 cent tax.
“It’s about our kids,” Frush said. “Our kids are smoking in record numbers, and they are getting their cigarettes very, very easily.”
Frush’s legislation would also impose a 35 percent tax on snuff and chewing tobacco. These products are currently subject only to the 5 percent sales tax, said Alicia Moran, a spokeswoman for the comptroller.
The American Cancer Society estimates that Frush’s proposal would reduce youth smoking by 36 percent and yield $325 million in revenue.
Maryland Gov. Parris N. Glendening has proposed a more modest tax increase of 36 cents, which would double the current cigarette tax. Frush thinks this amount is too low to have any impact on youth sales.
Although she conceded that an increase of this size may lead to loss of some sales to states across Maryland’s borders, Frush said limited mobility makes this less likely for underage smokers.
The bill was assigned to the House Ways and Means committee, which has not yet scheduled a hearing.
Morhaim’s bill would ban vending machine sales of cigarettes in Maryland. Morhaim, who is a physician, said that although vending machines account for 1 percent of cigarette sales, they are where the majority of underage smokers purchase cigarettes.
“The nature of vending machines is an unsupervised sale,” Morhaim said. “We don’t sell beer and wine through vending machines because we don’t want minors to have unsupervised access. The same applies to cigarettes.”
Morhaim decried current laws prohibiting vending machine sales to minors as unenforced and unenforceable. His bill is assigned to the House Environmental Matters Committee, which has not yet set a hearing date. -30-