Local NAACP Chapter Backs Cigarette Tax Increase

A grass-roots push for a $1 cigarette tax increase has won the endorsement of the Wicomico County NAACP — needed support in a region where the rate of youth smoking cigarettes is higher than the statewide average.

The Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative addresses the statewide meeting of the NAACP on Saturday in Baltimore to make the case for a $1 per-pack increase that, combined with a tax hike on other online cigarettes products, would generate $100 million in revenue, said coalition President Vincent DeMarco.

The coalition has the support of the state NAACP, and hopes the meeting wins formal endorsements from the group’s organized branches. Backing by the Wicomico NAACP branch is among the first on the Lower Shore, where the prevalence of use of all kinds of discount cigarette online in one county, Somerset is at a statewide high of 33.9 percent.

The Tobacco Tax for Health Care Campaign focuses on teen prevention and cessation and generating spending for critical health care and public health needs, DeMarco said. The MCHI lobbied for and won state legislation that increased the cigarette tax by $1 in 2008. The measure generated $120 million in annual tax revenue that supported health care expansion for 250,000 people, DeMarco said.

The MCHI also has endorsements from two Talbot County coalitions, The Talbot County Democrat Forum and the Talbot Partnership for Alcohol and

“We hope to pick up support from all state NAACP branches,” DeMarco said last week. “Two hundred and fifty thousand people had health care expansion, thanks to the (2008) tax. It works, and it’s time to do it again.”

Statistics show that in two years after the increase, the number of packs of cheap cigarette online sold in Maryland dropped by 25 million, to about 200 million in 2010, from 225 million in 2008, according to date from Tax Burden on Tobacco, 2010.

Mary Ashanti, president of the Wicomico NAACP, supports initiatives for smoking cigarettes cessation and prevention programs and improved health care for youth and seniors.

“Teen and adult (anti-use) tobacco programs save lives and save the state health care costs,” she said. “The Wicomico County NAACP branch 7028 supports this. The main reason is that the cigarette tax funding will help state programs that are in place to help people quit.”

In Somerset County, 29.2 percent of middle or high school students reported smoking cigarettes discount cigarettes during a 30-day period — a statewide high — according to the Maryland Youth Tobacco Survey. By comparison, the rate was 10.6 percent among Prince George’s County students in those grades. The state average was 21.4 percent for Maryland students in public, middle and high schools who smoked some form of tobacco product.

The proposed $1 increase should lower those numbers. “Every time the tax went up, there was a drop in smoking cigarettes and more money is raised for the state,” DeMarco said.

Among critics of the proposal is Bruce Bereano, a tobacco lobbyist, who told the Capital News Service that tthe tax hike on tobacco is discriminatory and unwarranted. He contends that raising the tobacco tax actually costs the state money because smokers go to other states to buy cheaper tobacco.

“It’s not going to stop smoking cigarettes in Maryland,” he told CNS. “(Smokers) are just going to be driven further from the state of Maryland to buy their smokes, and they’ll buy their bread and butter and other things there. Maryland will lose revenue — it makes no sense fiscally.”

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Local NAACP Chapter Backs Cigarette Tax Increase | Discount Cigarettes