MARYLAND – Between 1998 and 2010, adult smoking rates across the state of Maryland declined by about 32%, around double the amount across the nation. However, a number of legislators and health officials across the state are pushing for more action.
"We've saved a lot of lives lets safe some more," says Vincent DeMarco, President of the Maryland Citizens Health Initiative. "We want to build on that progress."
The Maryland Citizens Health Initiative reports that 70,000 people were saved from preventable tobacco-related deaths between the 1998 and 2010 period as well. They credit three separate tobacco tax increases during that time for the major decline.
"There's been a huge drop and Maryland has made a lot of progress but now it's leveling off," says DeMarco. "We need to do more to keep this drop in smoking happening."
To do so, the group, along with more than 700 endorsers, is pushing for the "Healthy Maryland Initiative." The bill is set for a hearing in both the house and senate, and proposes a hike of the current $2.00 tax up to $3.00. If passed, the revenue will filter to various health improvements across the state, including community based initiatives that address childhood obesity and long-term care for seniors, along with improved access to healthcare for many families. Most importantly, it could mean $21 million for tobacco prevention programs, which had a $14 million funding cut in 2010.
"We had about 5 people in our program and now I'm the only one that teaches the classes," says Jennifer Johnson, with the Wicomico County Health Department. "They cut a lot, and the more they cut on the program there's less people we can help when it comes to the medications, the patches, and that kind of stuff."
Johnson says in many cases, the cost of quitting is sometimes more than the cost of cigarettes if people do it on their own. However, with more funding for their programs, the more they can provide the necessary materials for free.
"It's more advertising out there or more classes out there," says Johnson. "I think it's extremely important, people think there really isn't as much a problem anymore, but there really is."
According to the Maryland Citizens Health Initiative, after conducting a survey of 250 randomly-selected people on the Eastern Shore, officials found about 60 percent were in support of the proposal, including some current smokers.
DeMarco says despite the support, it will be difficult for the bill to pass, but the point is to create awareness.
"We need to make this an election issue," says DeMarco. "We feel that after this election cycle we'll be able to pass this measure in 2015."
For more on the Maryland Citizens Health Initiative, head over to their website.
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