Baltimore council to consider taxing cigars, smokeless tobacco


Baltimore will consider imposing a tax on cigars and smokeless tobacco, about a month after the Maryland General Assembly failed to pass a similar bill.

City Council members met yesterday with Vincent DeMarco, executive director of the Maryland Children's Initiative, who is urging local governments to enact the tax after it failed in Annapolis.

Like other local governments, the city is prohibited by state law from imposing a tax on cigarettes. But the law does not apply to cigars and smokeless tobacco, DeMarco said.

Maryland is one of six states that does not tax cigars and smokeless tobacco. This month, Montgomery County became the first local government in the state to propose a 36-cent tax on tobacco products other than cigarettes. The Baltimore City Council -- searching for ways to increase revenue -- welcomes the idea.

Councilman Norman A. Handy Sr. of the 6th District said he will introduce the measure next week. The amount of the proposed tax has not been determined.

Tobacco opponents had hoped the Maryland General Assembly would increase the state's 36-cent per pack cigarette tax by $1.50 per pack, raising $300 million in revenue for the state. But the measure was rejected 7 to 6 by the Senate's Budget and Taxation Committee.

Local taxes on tobacco products would help reduce nicotine addiction among teen-agers, DeMarco said. Each day, an estimated 60 Maryland teens become addicted to tobacco, DeMarco said. Cigar industry leaders have opposed the tax as discriminatory against smokers. A spokesman for the cigar industry could not be reached yesterday to comment on the proposal. But Councilwoman Rochelle "Rikki" Spector of the 5th District questioned how effective the bill would be in slowing use.

"Kids don't care what it costs," Spector said. "If they want it, they'll get it."

The proposed tax in Montgomery County would bring in an additional $250,000 in tax revenue. Baltimore officials said they are unsure how much tax revenue would be generated if their bill passes. The main benefit will be reducing the health effects of cigars and smokeless tobacco, DeMarco said.

"If we pass a bill, it will make a difference," DeMarco said.

Pub Date: 5/19/98

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