ANNAPOLIS – Cigarettes already go for about $5 a pack in Maryland, but that didn’t prevent Sen. Ida Ruben, D-Montgomery, from proposing to raise the tax on tobacco products by 36 cents per pack.
The state’s current $1 tax is not sufficient to deter new smokers, Ruben said Friday. She submitted a bill to raise the levy for the third time in five years, bumping it from 36 cents in 1999 to $1.36 in 2003.
“It’s been proven that the additional tax put on cigarettes prevents people from starting to smoke,” she said.
Ruben wanted to raise the tax to save lives and lower long-term health care costs she said. Her goal in submitting the bill was not specifically to address the state’s $1.3 billion deficit.
Because Ruben’s emphasis is on health rather than funding, her office has not yet determined how much the tax would raise. A Legislative Services commission on new revenue streams determined a 25-cent tax would make $51 million annually. Ruben’s staff used that estimate to put their bill’s revenue figure around $60 million.
Gov. Robert Ehrlich has promised to veto any cigarette or alcohol tax increase this year because he said he believes citizens are paying too much for government services.
Ehrlich’s stance disregards the health implications, Ruben said.
“It’s the responsibility of the governor to take care of the deadly issue,” she said.
Dismissing claims that all the emphasis was on the health dangers of cigarettes, Ehrlich’s spokesman Henry Fawell said, “Proponents would also be more than happy to spend the tax revenue.”
One supporter would like to see the money come into state coffers.
“It serves two purposes,” said Delegate William Bronrott, D-Montgomery, the author of a House bill to sharply increase the tax on alcohol to produce $95 million.
The tax would fund programs and make cigarettes less desirable to would-be smokers, Bronrott said.
Maybe Maryland cigarettes would become less desirable, but not cigarettes, said Delegate John F. Wood Jr., D-St. Mary’s.
“This is a ridiculous bill,” said Wood, chairman of the Southern Maryland Delegation. “It sends Maryland dollars directly to Virginia, Delaware, West Virginia and Pennsylvania so they can spend less money on their gas, too, and come back with empty wallets.”
The General Assembly voted to raise the tobacco tax 30 cents in 1999 and another 36 cents in 2002.
– 30 – CNS-1-31-03