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Health group: Prices spike on tobacco products after Md. tax increase

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Photo - Cigars (ThinkStock photo)
Cigars (ThinkStock photo)
Local,Maryland,Abby Hamblin

July tax increases on some noncigarette tobacco products in Maryland have led to significant increases in prices, according to a study released Wednesday by a Maryland health advocacy groupthat pushed for the levies.

A single can of Skoal Smokeless Tobacco has increased from $4.99 to $5.49, for example, the group said.

"Basically, what this is about is a celebration of the success we had in raising the tax on little cigars and smokeless tobacco," said Vincent DeMarco, president of Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative, who fought for the tax increases."This increase, we think, is going to drop smoking and use of these products by a third."

The Maryland Health Care for All Coalition surveyed the prices of purchases made in Baltimore stores before and after the tax rate changewent into effectJuly 1. The tax increase, said to be an effort to reduce the number of Maryland youth using noncigarette tobacco products, found that the price of products such as "little cigars," like "Black and Mild" and "Swisher Sweets,"was increased by more than$2.

"We just know that when the prices are more expensive and kids have a small amount of money, they'll use them less," said DeMarco.

The tax increases, approved by the General Assembly last year, raised wholesale tax rates on cigars from 15 to 70 percent and on "other tobacco products" such as "little cigars," pipe tobacco, chewing tobacco, snuff and other smokeless tobacco products from 15 to 30 percent. Premium cigars, which are defined as having "hand-rolled wrappers made from whole tobacco leaves" remained at 15 percent.

Donald Bennett, owner of the more than 100-year-old Fader's Tobacconists in Towson, Md., said he has already seen the taxes hurting business. He predicts that it will lead to tobacco smokers cutting back on their purchases.

"When you only have so much disposable income, you have to pick your battles," Bennett said. "This is part of your leisure time, and they are basically stealing leisure time away from people."

As for the notion that raising taxes will reduce tobacco use among youth, Bennett isn't buying it.

"It's just insane," Bennett said. "Every time they put on a new tax, they say, 'It's for the children, it's for the children,' but they are just trying to find a way to make it more palatable for the public. They are just trying to justify it, but it has already been illegal for many years to sell tobacco to underage people."

Maryland officials predict that state revenue from thenew taxeswill increase by nearly $24 million overfive years.But that's not enough for DeMarco, whose next mission is to raise the price of cigarettes by a dollar per pack.

"We've survived through two world wars and the Depression, and God-willing, we'll be able to make it through this," Bennett said. "I'm not saying it's going to be easy, but we'll hang in there."

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