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Tobacco filibuster unhealthy for teens; State Senate: Higher tax, coupled with anti-smoking campaign, could reduce cigarette addictions.


IT IS TIME for sensible Republicans to reconsider filibuster tactics that have stalled passage of a bill doubling Maryland's tax on cigarettes and imposing a new tax on cigars and smokeless tobacco.

The goal of this measure is to discourage teen-agers from getting hooked on tobacco. Killing the bill through a filibuster puts Republicans squarely on the wrong side of an important social issue.

Three Republican senators, J. Robert Hooper of Harford-Cecil counties, Jean W. Roesser of Montgomery County and Martin G. Madden of Howard-Prince George's counties, voted to accept the committee report calling for a 36-cent increase on the per-pack cigarette tax. Yet they joined their GOP colleagues in launching a filibuster.

The health of thousands of young Marylanders is at stake. Solid evidence from other states and nations indicates that fewer teens take up smoking when the price of cigarettes is raised at least 10 cents a pack.

Coupled with Gov. Parris N. Glendening's written pledge to launch a "substantial, aggressive" anti-smoking advertising and education campaign, a 36-cent tax increase could help curb the smoking habits of teens and young adults. This should be of critical concern to lawmakers.

Just this week, the Journal of the National Cancer Institute reported on a study that showed children who smoke suffer irreversible genetic damage. Our elected leaders must do whatever they can to prevent this from happening.

Some senators are angry at the governor's heavy-handed efforts to pass the tobacco tax bill, especially his strategy of making pet projects dependent upon tobacco-tax revenue. Other lawmakers oppose any tax increase of any kind this year.

Such arguments ignore the basic premise of this bill: stopping teens from smoking.

Republicans are wrong to block a final vote on a bill that could deter many young Marylanders from developing an insatiable desire for tobacco products. The Senate's minority party is being unnecessarily obstructionist.

Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., though personally opposed to the tobacco tax, should use his considerable powers to break the filibuster as soon as possible. Otherwise, the final days of this General Assembly session could be in shambles, and the reputation of the Senate severely undermined.

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