Cigar Tax Increase Sought in Maryland

Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative seeks increase from 15% to 65%

ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- Following a recent Maryland study that found teenagers are increasingly reaching for flavored mini-cigars, the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative plans to lobby lawmakers to raise cigar tax rates from 15% to roughly 65%, matching the tax on cigarettes.

According to a report in The Capital, teenage cigar use in Maryland has risen by 11% over the past decade, per a Department of Health and Mental Hygiene study released in November. The same study said sales of the mini-cigars have risen 176%, even though teen smoking in general has declined.

Vincent DeMarco, the Maryland Citizens' Health Initiative president said state Sens. Jennie M. Forehand, D-Montgomery County, and Verna L. Jones-Rodwell, D-Baltimore, have agreed to sponsor legislation that includes the tax, which is expected to generate about $30 million annually.

The cigar industry has called the push a "misguided" way to shore up government coffers disguised as an anti-smoking campaign.

"There is a fundamental right in this country for the small businessmen and women we represent to sell a legal product at a fair profit without undue government interference," said Bill Spann, CEO of The International Premium Cigar & Pipe Retailers Association, in a statement.

"There is a similar fundamental right for American citizens of legal age to make an informed, conscious choice to enjoy these fine, artisan products," Spann said.

He pointed out that teenagers don't reach for the $6- to $30-a-piece cigars his industry sells.

A cigar-tax boost failed in the state last year, but local sellers expect the pressure to continue again as the state faces an estimated $1 billion deficit, according to The Capital article.