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Should a public smoking ban get tobacco’s revenue? This bill disagrees

Maryland lawmakers are looking to return the favor for banning smoking at publicly funded universities by taking away the hand that feeds them.

Since July 2013, the legal activity of lighting up and smoking tobacco products has been banned from Maryland’s public universities. A new bill would deduct the proportionate amount of of revenue the state receives from tobacco taxes. For Maryland, tobacco taxes account for 2.8 percent of the state’s total revenue, according to recent state projections. If the bill passes, the university system would lose about $33.8 million in fiscal year 2015.

The bill was introduced by Del. John Wood and supported by well-known “sindustry” lobbyist Bruce Bereano. Both see the hypocrisy in the state’s policies.

“Entities that make public policy decisions that have revenue and fiscal consequences should live with those and be realistic, not be hypocritical, and be consistent, so this is a bill to really help the colleges and universities be consistent and be pure to themselves,” Bereano contends.

Maryland’s tobacco farmers have endured the state’s anti-smoking blows for years.  Since 2000, farmers have been paid off by the state not to grow the lucrative crop. The funds come from the Master Settlement Agreement of 1998 between tobacco companies and 46 states, which settled the states’ claims to compensate for the health care costs connected to tobacco. This settlement money has been the piggy bank for the state’s anti-smoking campaigns.

Although many farmers signed on to stop growing the notorious crop, many are anxious. The farmers that agreed to this program were given up to 10 years to transition to a different cash crop. Many farmers are still struggling to find a crop that competes with tobacco’s generous profit.

“We still haven’t found the silver bullet,” said Prince George’s County Farm Bureau President Yates Clagett. “Grapes, vegetables, meats…these are all wonderful prospects and they’ve changed many farms for the better, but there still isn’t a niche to replace tobacco in Southern Maryland.”

One tobacco farmer from Calvert County is unashamed of his living as a tobacco farmer, and continues to go against the grain of public opinion.

“Nobody has held anybody down and made them smoke a cigarette. They went to the store and bought them under their own free will. It’s still a legal crop, legal product. No, I have no quarrel growing it,” S.L. Brady stated.

Last August, Brady told WTOP News about how fruitful his crop was that year, and projected to make about $5,000  an acre before figuring in labor costs.

Although the profitability of tobacco is the industry’s lifeblood, it also gives many new farmers their start in the risky business of agriculture.

“Tobacco is an easy crop for small farmers to get into because it doesn’t require much land or equipment,” Clagett said.  “New farmers have to start somewhere and tobacco is an attractive option.” According to Clagett, tobacco can yield profits of $700-800 per acre.

Despite Maryland’s efforts to vanquish tobacco usage altogether, it remains entitled to the substantial revenue it provides.

Jackie Moreau

Jackie Moreau is the Managing Editor of Watchdog Wire. You can find her on Twitter as @Jackie_Moreau.

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Categories: Budget and Finance, Congress, Education, Environment, Must Read, Policy
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