Tobacco tax needs equality too

Written by on October 19, 2011 in Baltimore Voices, Featured - No comments

Vincent DeMarco, the Carrie Nation of all things he considers unhealthy, wants to raise the tobacco—no, wait, call that the cigarette tax—again, to $3 a pack.

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Let’s call it the “cigarette tax” because the State of Maryland does not tax all tobacco equally—it places a premium on cigarettes and lets cigars, pipe tobacco and snuff skate by relatively lightly taxed.

The cigarette tax is presently $2 a pack, one of the highest per-pack rates in the country—87 percent of the wholesale cost of the pack. At the moment, Maryland rakes in about $400 million in cigarette tax.

But it does not bring in very much at all from taxes on pipe tobacco and cigars–only about $57 million. That’s because the State of Maryland taxes cigars, snuff and pipe tobacco at only 15 percent of the wholesale price.

Tobacco is an obnoxious habit.

Tobacco can cut years off a smoker’s life.

Tobacco can cause, or contribute to, all kinds of awful diseases—cancer, emphysema and heart disease are the biggies, but there are more.

Tobacco costs society a great deal in health care costs.

Tobacco is also a contributor to house fires and, occasionally, auto accidents.

There are plenty of legitimate reasons to tax tobacco, and tobacco should be taxed.

But it should be taxed equally.

As much as I hate to agree with ethically challenged tobacco lobbyist Bruce Bereano, any further cigarette tax should be scuttled, mainly because it’s a tax that hits low-income people square in the pocketbook, and times are hard enough for them.

Maryland, by disproportionately taxing cigarettes, is hitting lower-income people harder, and the State of Maryland prides itself on being a progressive tax state, one that balances taxes between rich and poor.

Maryland is not doing that in this case. It is taxing cigarette smokers at a much higher clip than it does cigar and pipe smokers, who tend to be better off.

I’m not against Vinny DeMarco advocating for a higher tobacco tax, but he should advocate for equal tobacco taxes. Once cigar and tobacco taxes are at 87 percent of the wholesale price, then by all means go for a higher cigarette tax.

• I have another beef with the State of Maryland at the moment—by the time this hits the street the General Assembly will have endorsed a new, and even goofier than before, map of Congressional districts (below).

Everyone admits, at least privately, that the map is intended to pry Roscoe Bartlett (R-6) out of the seat he has held in the House of Representatives for the last 20 years. Roscoe is a reliable conservative, although less conservative than the uber- right wing Andy Harris over on the Eastern Shore. And the eastern part of Roscoe’s territory is getting a bit more liberal.

So the Democrats, who control these things in this state, are moving even more liberals into the Sixth, enough perhaps to cost him his seat.

Which will leave the overwhelmingly conservative counties in Western Maryland without a representative to reflect their needs and views.

Not fair. There was a time, less than ten years ago, when Maryland had four Democrats—Ben Cardin, Steny Hoyer, Al Wynn and Elijah Cummings, and four Republicans—Wayne Gilchrest, Bob Ehrlich, Bartlett and Connie Morella—in the House. I think the representation reflected the views of Marylanders far better in those days.

Of course, this is about politics, not fair representation.

Wrangling over the state legislative district map should be right entertaining. Stay tuned.

by Jacqueline Watts

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