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Md. Lt. Gov. Brown voices support for increase in tobacco tax

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Maryland Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown (D) joined a group of health advocates in Annapolis on Thursday to push for an increase in the tax on non-cigarette tobacco products, which were not affected when lawmakers voted to double the cigarette tax to $2 per pack in 2007.

The tax increase would generate an estimated $19 million for the state, according to the budget Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) proposed last week. Brown was quick to mention the anticipated revenue when he spoke to attendees, including the American Cancer Society, Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids and MedChi, the state’s medical society.

“But that wouldn’t be why you’re here, but rather to focus on the benefits to health of what we’re proposing,” Brown said, adding that he would prefer to eventually see no tax revenue from tobacco.

“We are looking forward to the day in Maryland when we live in a tobacco-free world,” he said.

Brown cited “troubling” data showing an increase in young people’s use of “addictive, flavorful, attractive” cigars and smokeless tobacco, including narrow cigars called “cigarillos.” Sales of such products have increased in Maryland even as cigarette sales have fallen, Brown said.

Well-known health advocate Vincent DeMarco, who lobbied successfully for the cigarette tax increase as head of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, introduced Brown at the mid-day event.

DeMarco hopes to convince lawmakers to raise the state’s cigarette tax yet again, to $3 a pack, which would place it among the highest cigarette tax rates in the country. But he calls that goal more “long-term.”

“This session our main focus is on increasing the tax on other tobacco products, cigars and smokeless, to make it comparable to the present cigarette tax,” DeMarco said.

DeMarco’s group championed the the first targeted tax increase on alcohol in 40 years, which O’Malley signed into law last year, and is pleased that the governor’s budget proposes to dedicate the resulting revenue to health services.

While the money Maryland collects from the cigarette tax goes into the state’s General Fund, DeMarco said he would push for any increased tax revenue to be spent on tobacco control programs and Medicaid.

Maryland has a much higher cigarette tax than Virginia, where cigarettes are taxed at a rate of 30 cents per pack.

“There may be some” Marylanders who buy tobacco products in Virginia or online to evade increased taxes, “but the overall consumption in Maryland will go down,” Brown said after the event.

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