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Don't enable Maryland's addiction to cigarette tax revenue

Organized Crime

We're almost a month away from another legislative session, so it was no surprise to read The Sun's editorial in favor of higher cigarette taxes ("A life-saving tax," Nov. 25). While lobbyists like Vinnie DeMarco prepare their annual push to punish smokers, the rationale to raise cigarette taxes is as flawed as ever.

Higher cigarette prices may discourage smoking, but there is hardly the direct connection between declining rates of smoking and higher tobacco taxes as The Sun claims. In fact, the last time cigarette taxes were increased in Maryland, we saw youth cigarette usage actually increase. Underage cigarette use was in a steady decline between 2000 and 2006, but after the cigarette tax increase in 2007, underage cigarette use went up in 2008, according to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

The Sun correctly notes that many of the cigarette smugglers arrested in Maryland are passing through the state to take their smuggled cigarettes to New York. That state's high cigarette tax makes it a prime place for smugglers to sell their wares. These smugglers purchase cigarettes in low-tax states like North Carolina and Virginia and sell them in high-tax ones. The Sun's editors claim that the average smoker won't go out of state to purchase cigarettes because of high fuel prices, but these fuel prices also encourage smugglers to look for high-tax states closer to Virginia and North Carolina. When Maryland begins approaching New York-level cigarette taxes, it makes our state far more attractive to these smugglers.

Even though the rationale to hike cigarette taxes is flimsy, our legislators will likely go along with this proposal so they can have more revenue to spend. If they really believed the propaganda being peddled by Mr. DeMarco and his allies, they would vote to ban smoking. But they like to profit off the backs of the smokers they demonize, and anti-tobacco advocates are happy to aid them.

Marc Kilmer, Rockville

The writer is a senior fellow with the Maryland Public Policy Institute.

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