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Cigarette tax has saved lives; so would another raise in it

Contrary to Marc Kilmer's letter ("Don't enable Md.'s addiction to cigarette tax revenue," Dec. 6), Maryland's 2007 dollar-per-pack cigarette tax increase significantly reduced teen smoking and saved lives. Between 2008 when the law took effect and the next time a survey of teen smoking was taken in 2010, smoking among teens in Maryland dropped from 15.3 percent to 14.1 percent, saving thousands of Maryland young people from the horrors of tobacco addiction.

For a personal account of how this tax increase saved lives, Mr. Kilmer should read the commentary that appeared in The Sun several months ago written by the Rev. Fred Weimert, the board chair of the Central Maryland Ecumenical Council ("Cigarette taxes saved my kids' lives," Aug. 30). He wrote about how his two sons quit smoking because the tobacco tax increase raised the price of cigarettes. That is why the Central Maryland Ecumenical Council has joined the Maryland Association of Student Councils and over 500 other faith, community, labor, business, health care and education groups from across the state in endorsing the Healthy Maryland Initiative's proposed new dollar tobacco tax increase, which will save tens of thousands of more Marylanders from preventable tobacco caused death and illness.

The 2007 tobacco tax increase disparaged by Mr. Kilmer is also bringing in over $120 million per year in additional revenue to the state, which Gov. Martin O'Malley has used to expand health care coverage to over 100,000 lower income parents. This has brought Maryland from 34th in the nation in health care for lower income people to 14th, has kept many thousands of Marylanders healthy, and has reduced the hidden health care tax we all pay to cover the cost of hospitalization of the uninsured.

Like the tobacco industry, Mr. Kilmer raises the fear of Marylanders going to other states to buy cigarettes when tobacco taxes go up. The fact is that after the 2007 dollar tobacco tax increase, the reduction in cigarette sales in Maryland far outweighed any increase in tobacco sales in neighboring states that did not increase their tax. What happened was that fewer people, particularly fewer young people, smoked the deadly products.

Plainly, Maryland's past tobacco tax increases have been public health successes. That is why according to a recent poll by Opinion Works, 65 percent of Maryland voters support another dollar per pack tobacco tax increase. We urge Governor O'Malley and the General Assembly to enact this tax soon. It is good policy and good politics.

Vincent DeMarco, Baltimore

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

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