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DeMarco grateful for Senate action but wants more

Health advocate Vinny DeMarco was thrilled and delighted this week when the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee approved the most important part of his proposal to increase taxes  on tobacco products  other that cigarettes as part its budget package.

Now the irrepressible DeMarco wants the rest.

The Senate committee agreed to raise the price on small cigars -- a type of tobacco products that has been increasingly appealing to young people as cigarette  taxes have been increased -- from 15 percent to 70 percent. That was DeMarco's No. 1 goal, and Gov. Martin O'Malley made it a revenue-raising part of his budget  proposal.

But the Senate panel balked at DeMarco's proposal to extend the same increase to smokeless tobacco products such as snuff, snus and chewing tobacco. It voted to raise that tax from 15 percent  to 20 percent and threw in a similar increase on premium cigars.

Within a few hours of their significant victory in the Senate, DeMarco and his allies in the Healthy Maryland Initiative decided to go for it all in the House Ways & Means Committee, which held a hearing on the proposal Friday afternoon. DeMarco was there to testify for the  full 70 percent rate on the smokeless tobacco products. His written testimony presented an extensive case on the health effects of such products, including oral cancer and gum disease.

DeMarco has based his case for the tax increase on the goal of discouraging the use of tobacco, especially among teenagers and younger children, but the prospects of raising additional revenue by raising a "sin tax" could have considerable appeal when lawmakers are scratching for all the revenue they can get to help close a $1 billion budget shortfall.

Maryland drinkers have particular reason to remembers DeMarco's effectiveness in persuading the legislature to enact taxes with public health arguments. He was the driving force behind last year's increase in Maryland's alcohol tax -- which lawmakers hadn't dared to touch in decades.

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