- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 29, 2002

ANNAPOLIS Anti-smoking groups will renew their push for a 70-cents-a-pack increase in the cigarette tax this year, arguing that the higher tax will reduce smoking and raise about $200 million that the state badly needs to get through the recession.
"Tobacco taxes do what we want done," said Michaeline Fedder of the American Heart Association at a news conference yesterday. "We want kids to not start smoking. We want addicted smokers to quit."
The news conference was sponsored by Smoke Free Maryland, a coalition of about 100 anti-tobacco organizations.
Money raised by the tax could help pay for health care programs that are threatened because of a drop in tax revenues as a result of the recession, Miss Fedder said.
Bills to increase the state's tax of 66 cents per pack to $1.36 a pack were submitted in the House and Senate yesterday by two Montgomery County Democrats Sen. Christopher Van Hollen and Delegate Barbara Frush.
Mr. Van Hollen said an estimated 20,000 young Marylanders who would have started smoking did not do so because of higher prices resulting from the 1999 tax increase.
"Those are lives saved in the long run," he said.
The 1999 legislation proposed a $1 tax increase and passed the House of Delegates, but was cut back to a 30-cent increase in the Senate when opponents tried to kill it with a filibuster.
Mrs. Frush said she believes the bill would pass again this year in the House, but the outlook is not as promising for smoking opponents in the Senate.
Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr., Prince George's Democrat, opposes a tax increase.
But Mr. Van Hollen said the bill has a lot of support, including the backing of Sen. Barbara Hoffman, Baltimore Democrat and chairman of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, and has a chance of passing.
Mr. Van Hollen said cigarette-tax increases are a bipartisan issue. He noted that New York enacted the nation's highest tax $1.50 per pack with support from Republican Gov. George E. Pataki.
The Republican leader in the Maryland House of Delegates, Alfred Redmer of Baltimore County, said he is opposed to the increase.
"If you look at the demographics … statistically individuals who smoke are individuals least able to afford that kind of tax," Mr. Redmer said.
"I'm concerned that we will lose sight of the fact that this is as much a business issue as it is a health issue."
If the Maryland tax is increased, it will drive more customers into adjoining states with lower taxes, Mr. Redmer said.
"When they go to buy cigarettes, they also buy other goods and services," he said.
But supporters said any loss of cigarette sales to other states would be minimal.
Gov. Parris N. Glendening has supported higher cigarette taxes in the past, but said in 1999 he would not seek another increase during his remaining three years in office if the legislature approved raising the tax by 30 cents. He is expected to remain neutral on the Van Hollen and Frush bills this year.

The Blair Witch won't be visiting the General Assembly this year.
The Frederick County delegation decided on Friday not to submit a bill proposed by Burkittsville officials aimed at protecting Maryland communities from the evils of the movie industry.
Burkittsville endured vandalism in 1999 by people seeking souvenirs from the tiny town that was the unwitting setting for the mock documentary horror film, "The Blair Witch Project."
The bill would have required the state film office to reimburse communities for such damage.

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