Tobacco Tax: Saving Two Birds With One Stone

Nov 7, 2013

Credit Tom Chalkley

We’ve heard it all before – and we’re the healthier for it.

Now, once again, comes Vinny DeMarco with arguments for taxing the toxic for the benefit of the not-yet-sick. He’s brandishing a list of influential community groups that back him, poll results showing wide support for his latest public health enterprise, and his cheery optimism. He’s ready once again to challenge lawmakers.  Don’t they want to impose another life-saving tax on cigarettes?

Health Care For All’s record – with DeMarco leading – is impressive: a 30 cent per-pack increase in the state tax on cigarettes passed in 1999, a 34 cent increase in 2002 and a $1 increase in 2008.

The result? Maryland adult smoking rates fell by 32 percent between 1998 and 2010. According to the Centers for Disease Control,  the Maryland number was well above the percentage of decline nationally.

Now, DeMarco says, it’s time to act again. Another $1 per pack increase is overdue, he says. The use of cigars and tobacco products, especially by children, has increased over the last decade. As smoking rates fall, lives are saved and the state spends less for hospital care. Legislators must know the refrain by heart now.

So, those are the arguments, Maryland. They’re convincing. The record suggests that smokers in Maryland will be paying more for their bad habit in a few months. 

Higher taxes on cigarettes mean fewer deaths – and tax savings. The additional revenue has been used to increase the state’s Medicaid rolls. Medicaid is a health  insurance program for the poor. When folks without insurance wind up in hospital emergency rooms, most everybody else picks up the tab. With insurance, they get care earlier at lower cost.

So, maybe that extra buck a pack could be called an insurance premium, and cheap at the price.