Maryland is considering a bill to raise its cigarette tax from $2 to $2.75 per pack, but legislators are worried that the price increase will cause teenagers to start smoking cigars instead. Luckily they’ve come up with an easy solution to the problem: Raise taxes on cigars too! Under the proposal, the tax on cigars will jump from 15% of the manufacturer’s price to an extremely punitive 90%. Combined with the statewide smoking ban, the new SCHIP taxes, and the recession, retailers are understandably fearing for their livelihoods. This could potentially defeat the revenue-raising purpose of the taxes. As a retailer friend of mine once said, “90% of nothing is nothing.”
Though no politician could get away with saying it, I’m not convinced that teenage smokers switching from cigarettes to cigars is something to be discouraged (assuming they are going to continue smoking something). Cigars aren’t inhaled directly and are less habit-forming,* and they could become a rewarding hobby into adulthood. If I were the parent of a teenager I would much rather see him smoking a few cigars per week than taking constant cigarette breaks throughout the day.
This is not the first anti-cigar proposal to come out of Maryland recently. Maryland cities and counties have been banning sales of low-cost, individual cigars to keep them out of reach of the poor and of teens who might strip out the tobacco and replace it with an even more illicit leaf.
*Update: To clarify, by “non-habit forming” I’m referring to their general usage, not to their chemical properties.
[Hat tip to the ever-vigilant Stogie Guys.]