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Higher tobacco taxes save lives

When tobacco taxes rise, fewer teens smoke

A recent op-ed criticizing Maryland's tobacco tax increases ignores the most important consequence of these measures: a dramatic decrease in tobacco use by teens that has saved thousands of young people from preventable tobacco-related deaths and serious illnesses ("Md. cigarette taxes have unintended consequences," Dec. 18).

According to data compiled by the Campaign For Tobacco Free kids, within two years after the 2008 increase in the state cigarette tax, from $1 per pack to $2 per pack, there was a 29 percent drop in teen smoking in Maryland.

That translated into 15,000 fewer high school smokers (some of whom have become non-smoking young adults by now); more than 70,000 kids today who will not become adult smokers; more than 30,000 kids alive today who will avoid future premature smoking-related deaths; and more than $1.5 billion in long-term health care cost savings tp the state.

The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene recently released a study showing that between 2010 and 2013 there was an 18 percent drop in Maryland teens smoking cigars. This happened at a time when nationally there was no statistically significant change in teen cigar smoking.

This progress, which also resulted in saving thousands of Maryland youth from tobacco addiction and preventable death and illnesses, occurred in part because of the 2012 increase in the state tax on cigars, along with an effective public education campaign by the state health department.

Granted, there will always be some people who will seek to avoid the tobacco tax by going to other states or resorting to smuggling. But very seldom will this involve children, whose lives we are saving in record numbers.

And we know from experience that the drop in cigarette sales in Maryland far outweighed the increase in sales in neighboring states that didn't increase their tobacco tax. And were are fully confident in Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot's ability to prevent and prosecute those who would try to illegally smuggle cigarettes into the state.

In addition to saving lives, tobacco tax increases are good for Maryland taxpayers because they both reduce the health-care cost for tobacco-related illnesses and help fund critical health care programs. The 2008 tobacco tax increase partially funded the expansion of health care to over 100,000 uninsured Marylanders.

Although the Maryland Taxpayers' Association doesn't seem to want Marylanders to have these benefits, many independent polls show the vast majority of Marylanders clearly understand these benefits and would strongly support further increases in the tobacco tax to save more lives and money for the state.

Vincent DeMarco, Baltimore

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

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