Boosting taxes on cigarettes is an effective way to cut smoking rates among adults and, even more, among those college-age and younger, along with tobacco-related disease and death. A case in point is Maryland, where the incidence of smoking fell by a third from 1998 to 2010, a period during which the state more than quintupled its cigarette tax.
By the same token, states that have allowed cigarette levies to remain low, under the sway of Big Tobacco or anti-tax sentiment, generally suffer from higher smoking rates and the resulting impact on public health. Virginia's cigarette tax is second-lowest in the nation, after Missouri's; it is an example of a state that extends its smokers a license to kill themselves.
Pleased with the results in Maryland, anti-tobacco advocates want to build on their success. On the merits, they have an easy case to make. After the state doubled its levy in 2008, to $2 per pack, cigarette sales dropped sharply. Now advocates want to raise the per pack tax again, to $3. Lawmakers should take note.