ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland’s General Assembly is reconsidering a bill to tax tobacco, with backers touting public health benefits and health equity for people of color.

Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed House Bill 732 last year, balking at raising cigarette taxes by $1.75 per pack, even though the funds would go to smoking cessation and health programs.

Jocelyn Collins, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. director of government relations for the American Cancer Society, thinks lawmakers will override the veto this session.

She said the tax is also a social-justice issue, as the tobacco industry has aggressively marketed to Black communities, and smoking is a risk factor for COVID-19, which has disproportionately hit the same group.

“In Baltimore, we do know that there are five times more tobacco retailers per square mile in the lowest-income neighborhoods than high-income neighborhoods, as defined by data from the U.S. Census,” Collins observed. “We have to look at the health impact of this.”

The override vote is expected Feb. 8.

The Mackinac Center for Public Policy opposes the tax hike, saying it would only increase cigarette smuggling.

Michael LaFaive, director of the Morey Fiscal Policy Initiative at the Center, estimated up to 85% of after-tax-hike changes in legal cigarette sales may be the result of tax evasion, not people smoking less.

Collins disagreed, and added the last time Maryland increased its tobacco tax more than a decade ago, retail cigarette sales dropped 30%. She also noted research showed the increased tax saved almost 13,000 lives and prevented more than 15,000 kids from becoming smokers.

“We do know that this is a proven mechanism,” Collins insisted. “We do know that it will save long-term healthcare costs of over $973.62 million. It actually saves taxpayer dollars in the long run, as well.”

She argued a higher cigarette tax would generate about $95 million in new revenue by also taxing e-cigarettes at 12% and vaping liquid at 60%. Part of that revenue would help pay for the Maryland Historically Black Colleges and Universities Settlement to compensate for past discrimination.

Diane Bernard, Public News Service

Diane Bernard is a digital and radio journalist based in the metropolitan Washington, D.C. area with more than 10 years of journalism experience. Her print and online credits include work for The Washington...

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