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Tobacco tax increase long overdue in Maryland | COMMENTARY

One meta-analysis of studies that comprised 11,590 COVID-19 patients found that the risk of disease progression among those who smoked was nearly double that of nonsmokers. It also found that when the disease gets worse, current or former smokers experienced more acute conditions and death.
One meta-analysis of studies that comprised 11,590 COVID-19 patients found that the risk of disease progression among those who smoked was nearly double that of nonsmokers. It also found that when the disease gets worse, current or former smokers experienced more acute conditions and death. (st.noon // Shutterstock)

I am praying for those I hold virtually and in person this very unique holiday season. I am also thinking about how we can use this time to inspire strong policy changes that advance the immediate and long-term measures of our health and well-being.

One step is clear for our personal and public health: There is no better time or incentive to quit smoking than right now during this pandemic, when we must act decisively to keep our communities and ourselves healthy and safe. Annually, 7,500 Marylanders die an untimely death caused by tobacco use, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states that smoking or having a history of smoking increases a person’s risk of severe illness from COVID-19. Among the lessons that come from this season of our lives must be a drive to make positive health outcomes a lasting public priority and public investment.

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Let’s therefore use this time to employ an evidence-based strategy for decreasing smoking: a tobacco tax increase. Such increases are a proven approach to reduce tobacco use and save lives. And it’s long overdue; Maryland has not increased the tobacco tax in over a decade, since 2007.

Earlier this year, Gov. Hogan vetoed House Bill 732, which included line items for raising the tobacco tax by $1.75 per pack on cigarettes, increased the tax on some other tobacco products and taxed electronic smoking devices (e-cigarettes) for the first time. This proposal would have a significant positive impact on both the health of Marylanders as well as the state’s budget and has earned the strong support of public health groups, including the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN). Yet, we have been blocked from making these changes and adding to the efforts of improving our state’s health outcomes.

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The tobacco tax increase is projected to raise annual state revenue by over $95 million dollars for educational needs and to also decrease the long-term health care costs from adult and youth smoking by more than $973 million dollars. The tax is also estimated to reduce smoking in youth under age 18 by 18%. Additionally, revenue from this tobacco tax will fund the costs associated with COVID-19, along with Maryland’s equitable funding of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and it will add much needed funding for the state’s Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Program put forth by the Maryland Department of Health.

As anyone who has ever used tobacco will tell you, quitting isn’t easy. But tobacco users are not alone in this battle. Our state, our community and our health departments have the power to help people across Maryland quit and help protect our kids from starting to use tobacco products.

I ask my colleagues in the legislature and all Marylanders to support an override of the governor’s veto on HB 732 to help our Maryland families, friends and neighbors quit using tobacco or, better yet, never start in the first place. For our children and our community, let’s pass a higher tobacco tax in Maryland. It’s time to kick Big Tobacco to the curb and prioritize saving lives

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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