In a recent Baltimore Sun article about our proposed tax increase for cigars and smokeless tobacco designed to reduce teen use of these products ("Group pushing tobacco tax says it's a popular idea," Dec. 20), Bill Spann of the cigar industry makes the irrelevant point that teenagers don't smoke expensive cigars. The fact is that according to a study recently released by the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, 14 percent of children now smoke the kind of inexpensive cigars that the cigar industry has been marketing with kid friendly flavors.

While cigarette smoking among children (and adults) in our state has declined dramatically (double the national average) largely as a result of our recent cigarette tax increases, saving thousands of lives from tobacco caused preventable death, cigar smoking among children has been on the rise in part because we have not increased the tax on these deadly products since 1999. The time has come to build on our success in reducing cigarette smoking by increasing the tax on cigars and smokeless tobacco so that we can save even more lives from tobacco addiction.

That is why a poll by OpinionWorks that we recently released showed that 72 percent of Marylanders join us in calling upon the General Assembly to increase the tax on cigars and smokeless tobacco so that it is equivalent to the tax on cigarettes.

Vincent DeMarco, Baltimore

The writer is president of the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative.