ANNAPOLIS – Voter support for an increase in the state sales tax on cigarettes may be stronger than party loyalty, according to poll results released Wednesday by an anti-tobacco coalition.
“We found, basically, that whoever is for the cigarette tax beats whoever is against it,” said Celinda Lake, spokesperson for Lake, Sosin, Snell, Perry & Associates Inc., the firm that conducted the poll.
Results were announced at dual news conferences in Annapolis and Baltimore. Represented were Smoke Free Maryland, a coalition of health and advocacy groups, the Maryland State Teachers Association and Maryland Citizen Action, which commissioned the poll.
Pollsters surveyed 602 registered Maryland voters by telephone in late September. The poll had a margin of error of 4 percent.
Sixty-two percent of respondents favored raising the state cigarette tax by $1.50 a pack, and 60 percent said they would be more likely to support a candidate who favors such an increase.
The poll also showed a significant drop in support for both Democrats and Republicans who oppose a “substantial” cigarette tax increase.
“This is a very safe issue,” said Cassandra Yutzy of Smoke Free Maryland, “but it might also be unsafe not to support it.”
Of those surveyed, 52 percent were leaning toward Democratic state legislative candidates in the next election, and 32 percent toward Republicans.
However, when the choice was between a Democrat who supports increasing the cigarette tax and a Republican who opposes an increase, Republican support dropped seven points. When the choice was between a Republican who supports the increase and a Democrat who opposes it, Democratic support dropped 22 points and Republican support rose six points. In both scenarios there were significant numbers of undecided voters.
“We really haven’t seen movement this dramatic with any other issue,” Lake said.
Del. Barbara Frush, D-Prince George’s, said that she was “not surprised” by the results.
“As people become more and more aware that the tobacco industry is targeting our children,” Frush said, “they become angrier and angrier.”
Karl Pence, president of the Maryland State Teachers Association, said that cigarettes affect not only children’s health, but also discipline and classroom attendance.
The state tax on cigarettes is now 36 cents a pack. Two bills introduced in the last session — one that would have doubled the sales tax and one that would have raised it by $1 a pack — never emerged from the House committees to which they were assigned.
“It saves lives, the public wants it, but for some reason it doesn’t happen,” said Smoke Free Maryland spokesperson Eric Gally.
Maryland Citizen Action joined the effort to raise taxes on cigarettes while fighting an income tax cut. “We saw, when we talked about cigarette taxes, that people had a different attitude than they did toward a lot of other taxes,” said Citizen Action spokesperson Jeff Blum. -30-