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Baltimore senator: Increased cigarette tax will stop youth from smoking | COMMENTARY

Sen. Cory McCray thinks increasing the tax on cigarettes can help stop kids from smoking.
Sen. Cory McCray thinks increasing the tax on cigarettes can help stop kids from smoking. (Photo by lindsayfox via PixabaySiegel Asks Whether Ban Is Comprehensive Enough)

We’ve all seen the alarming headlines about the e-cigarette epidemic among our nation’s youth — but not every Marylander realizes the extent of this problem in our own backyard.

A recent survey from the Maryland Department of Health, found that 23% of Maryland high school students are using e-cigarettes, which can become a “gateway” to other tobacco products for many teens.

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Research shows that e-cigarette use increases the risk of youth and young adults using combustible tobacco products. Smoking is also currently linked to more than one-quarter of cancer-related deaths in Maryland, and the economic havoc it imposes is staggering, resulting in $2.7 billion per year in health care costs for the state.

State lawmakers such as myself carry part of the social responsibility to help reduce tobacco use in Maryland and protect our youth.

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That’s why I have joined with the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and my colleague, House Majority Leader Eric Luedtke, to propose a $2-per-pack tax increase on cigarettes in the 2020 legislative session, which would include an equivalent tax on all other tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, as part of a comprehensive approach to tobacco control in Maryland.

Youth tobacco initiation can be substantially reduced by increasing the price of tobacco products through regular and significant cigarette and other tobacco product tax increases, implementing comprehensive smoke-free and tobacco-free laws and policies for all public places and fully funding tobacco prevention and cessation programs. These tactics have been tried and true tobacco control strategies over the decades — and it’s only logical that this can work again.

This is why as part of the bill, Del. Luedtke and I will require that $21 million of our tax’s revenue would be earmarked for tobacco prevention and cessation programs here in Maryland. It is imperative that we increase funding to programs such as the tobacco prevention and cessation program to protect the next generation from a lifetime of addiction.

According to a survey released by the Washington Post-University of Maryland, one-third of Maryland residents say they have tried e-cigarettes. Yet, 86% of say they think e-cigarette use is harmful to people’s health, including nearly 6 in 10 who say it is “very harmful.”

We must do our due diligence to deter our state’s impressionable youth from trying or using tobacco products in the future, or 92,000 Maryland youth alive today will die prematurely from smoking-related illnesses. According to a Center for Disease Control national survey, nearly half of high schoolers who smoke will try to quit. However, due to the addictive power of nicotine, about three out of four of those teens end up smoking into adulthood, even if they had intended to quit after a few years.

There isn’t anything to lose by implementing this tax, but much to gain. In addition to safeguarding our state’s youth, increasing the cigarette tax by $2-per-pack is projected to increase annual state revenue by $94.7 million and would decrease the long-term health care cost savings from adult and youth smoking by $1.26 billion. A tax increase is also estimated to decrease smoking in youth (under age 18) by 22% and prevent 22,300 more from becoming adult smokers.

Maryland currently ranks 17th nationwide for its cigarette tax rate, and we can do better. National and state polls consistently show strong public support for increasing tobacco taxes, and when it comes to balancing budgets, voters prefer raising tobacco taxes to other tax increases or cutting programs such as education or public safety.

Small tobacco tax increases simply do not produce significant public health benefits or cost savings. That is because cigarette companies can easily offset the beneficial impact of such small increases with temporary price cuts, coupons and other promotional discounting.

That said, I look forward to working with my colleagues during this Maryland General Assembly Legislative Session to pass a bill increasing the tax on all forms of tobacco, including e-cigarettes.

It’s time we do more than read about issues, because we frankly don’t have the luxury of time here. We need to act, and the time is now.

Sen. Cory McCray (cory.mccray@senate.state.md.us) represents District 45 in Baltimore City and serves on the Maryland Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. He also serves as 1st vice chair of the Maryland Democratic Party.

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