Reporting Meghan McCorkell
BALTIMORE, Md. (WJZ) — Higher taxes in Maryland may actually be saving lives. Health advocates announced the state cigarette tax is stopping people from smoking and now, they want to hike the tax even higher.
Meghan McCorkell has more on their push.
The state already charges $2 in taxes for a pack of cigarettes, but health advocates want to raise it to $3 to force more people to quit.
For seven years, Erika Varner smoked a pack of cigarettes every other day.
“I used to get shortness of breath just walking up the steps,” said Varner.
And it wasn’t just her health that suffered. Her bank account also took a beating.
“Oh my God. And they keep going up. I don’t know why people keep buying them. It may be $8 a pack of cigarettes,” said Varner.
According to a new report, that high price may be causing people to quit.
Advocates said cigarette sales in Maryland have been on a steady decline for the past few years ever since tobacco taxes started rising.
A CDC study shows smoking rates have fallen 32 percent from 1998 to 2010.
Tobacco tax increases save lives. That is why Vincent DeMarco with Maryland Citizens Health Initiative is lobbying for: another dollar increase.
“We want any new tax to go to health care and to tobacco prevention programs and any other public health needs,” said DeMarco.
A $1 increase to the cigarette tax in 2008 raised $126 million in a year, but smokers who first heard about the proposal in November said it wasn’t fair.
“My choice is to be a smoker and I understand the health risks that I’m taking,” said Lis Cawley.
As for Erika Varner, she’s been smoke-free for more than a year and supports the tax increase.
“I think it is a good idea. It will help people quit, especially in low-income areas,” said Varner.
It is a move that could force more to snuff out the smoking habit.
Advocates want lawmakers to vote on the tax increase in the upcoming legislative session.
The Maryland Association of Retailers has spoken out against a cigarette tax increase, saying it put an additional burden on local business owners.
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