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There's good reason for lower taxes on smokeless tobacco

Your editorial "The 'other' tobacco tax" (Jan. 19) is based on either a basic misunderstanding of how sin taxes are meant to work or a failure to appreciate that cigarettes are by far the most dangerous form of tobacco use.

Sin taxes are a bad idea. But if the underlying purpose of a sin tax is to discourage risky behavior, the tax rate on each product ought to be in line with the risk of that behavior.

But Gov.Martin O'Malley's plan to increase sin taxes on smokeless tobacco and cigars, in order to level the playing field with cigarettes, ignores the established science that cigarettes are by far the most dangerous way to use tobacco.

Cigarettes, which are burned and inhaled, are far more dangerous than smokeless tobacco, which experts estimate as 99 percent less harmful than smoking.

Cigars, which are more dangerous than smokeless products simply because they burn the tobacco, are generally used far less frequently than cigarettes and are thus responsible for fewer health problems.

Increasing revenues, especially in difficult financial times, is a temptation few lawmakers can resist. But until sin taxes are done away with, they should at least be applied based on rationality and science.

Jeff Stier, Washington

The writer is a senior fellow at the National Center for Public Policy Research.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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