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Coalition plans to pose question to Md. candidates: Is it time to raise the tobacco tax?

A coalition of health advocacy and anti-smoking groups launched a campaign in Maryland on Wednesday to make support for a $1 per pack increase in the state’s tobacco tax a major election issue this year for legislative candidates.

The group, led by the Maryland Health Care for All coalition, announced it would send letters to all legislative candidates asking for their views on a proposal to raise the tax from $2 to $3 a pack — and then publish and widely distribute the results.

“We’re going to make this one of the major General Assembly campaign issues,” vowed Vincent DeMarco, president of the health-care coalition at a news conference in Annapolis.

Similar campaigns took place in the run up to the 2006 election, a year before the legislature last raised the tobacco tax; and during the 2010 election cycle, a year before the legislature's decision to raise the alcohol tax.

DeMarco said he is optimistic that the General Assembly, which just adjourned for the year on Monday, will take the issue up in next year’s session. He and other advocates argue that raising the tobacco tax will both deter some people from smoking, particularly young people. It would also provide additional funding for smoking cessation and other health initiatives.

Legislation calling for a $1 per pack increase died in House and Senate committees this year, despite sizable interest from lawmakers. Fifty-seven members of the House of Delegates sponsored its version of the bill, while 19 senators did as well.

Other groups that participated in Wednesday’s event included the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Maryland State Education Association and the statewide chapter of the NAACP.

John Wagner is a political reporter covering the race for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination.

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