ANNAPOLIS Supporters of Gov. Parris N. Glendening’s $1 per pack tobacco tax on Wednesday introduced a statewide media campaign to push the idea, saying the increase should be viewed not as a tax, but as a public health issue.
“You raise the price of cigarettes, there’s going to be less people out there smoking, period,” said Smoke Free Maryland President Albert Blumberg. “From our standpoint, this isn’t a tax issue.”
The $300,000 television and radio campaign, managed by the Washington-based Laguens Hamburger Stone advertising agency, will last at least four weeks and will be funded mainly by a grant from the American Medical Association’s Smokeless States program. Spots will appear on county cable channels and be heard on a number of state radio stations.
“We thought it was a purpose they (AMA) were willing to support,” Blumberg said.
Radio ad speakers include Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and the Rev. Douglas Miles, president of the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance. Professional actors appear in the television commercials.
“The higher we increase the price, the more lives we save,” says Townsend, the mother of four school-age girls, in one ad. “Like all parents, I want my children to grow up alive and healthy.”
The tax increase would come on top of a recent 46-cent tax imposed by tobacco companies to pay for the November 1998 national settlement. That deal will send about $4.4 billion to Maryland over the next 25 years.
Glendening has said the tax is a way to curb teen smoking, but opponents like tobacco farmers claim the tax will create a cigarette black market. The tax foes also say Marylanders will travel to neighboring low-tax states like Virginia and Delaware to buy in bulk. They say this will hurt retailers and Maryland’s economy.
The anti-smoking coalition disagrees.
“Don’t be fooled,” Miles says in one radio ad. “The only people higher cigarette prices would hurt are the tobacco companies trying to addict our families.”
If the tax is passed and decreases in consumption occur as bill proponents and market analysts claim, Maryland won’t see all the money it expects to over the next 25 years. Last year’s national settlement agreement said if the tobacco industry’s market sales fall below a certain threshold, states will not receive as much money for programs such as public health.
“We’re very aware of that particular paradox,” Blumberg said. “That’s the whole reason I think we need an independent board to supervise this.”
Blumberg said Glendening should pass a House bill to create a cigarette restitution fund to direct settlement revenues into various programs such as alternative crop uses for tobacco farmers, smoking cessation programs and cancer treatment and prevention. That way, one person does not have total control over where the revenues go.
“Funding for any program set up under the (national) settlement isn’t guaranteed,” Blumberg said. “But you have to think of the money states would save by raising the tax to keep people from smoking, rather than spending more on treating sick smokers.”
Glendening has structured the budget now under debate in the General Assembly so that many programs, including accelerated construction of higher education facilities, depend on passage of the tobacco tax.
“The major thrust of this campaign is an educational thrust for both our citizens and legislators,” Blumberg said. “We’re hopeful the legislative process will ultimately support us in this.”