Howard students, legislators launch cigarette tax campaign


Kicking off a grass-roots campaign for a $1 increase in the state cigarette tax, Howard County activists employed a new weapon yesterday in their battle against the tobacco industry: children.

About 50 Wilde Lake High School students -- joined by Democratic County Councilman Guy J. Guzzone, and Bev Wilhide, an assistant to County Executive James N. Robey -- urged members of the General Assembly to pass tax-increase legislation.

"All of us are all too aware that teen smoking is a problem in Columbia, Howard County, Maryland, and the country," said Rebecca Gifford, a senior at the school and a representative of the Maryland Association of Student Councils' executive board.

The bill would increase taxes on cigarettes by 50 cents a pack each year over the next two years. The legislation has the support of Gov. Parris N. Glendening, 23 state senators and 48 state delegates, according to Vincent DeMarco, executive director of the Maryland Children's Initiative, a coalition of 300 organizations working to reduce teen smoking.

"They used to say that it was a politically difficult thing to vote against tobacco," DeMarco said. "Legislators, it's a politically difficult thing to vote against the citizens."

Howard County has one of the toughest anti-smoking laws on the East Coast.

Glendening said the tobacco tax vote "is never an easy vote, but it's the right thing to do to protect the health of our children."

Del. Elizabeth Bobo, a Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill whose district includes Wilde Lake, said the legislation is designed to protect the tobacco industry's target audience.

"The facts show that very, very clearly big tobacco has written in their plans to get and hook people at your age and to hook you for life," Bobo told the students. "Will [the bill] stop smoking? Of course not, but it will cut back on it."

Sun staff writer Larry Carson contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 1/26/99

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