Maryland tobacco bill would increase taxes on smokeless, 'little cigars'

Keller has run his smoke shop since 1966. (Photo: Whitney Wild/NewsChannel 8)

A typical Monday at Francis Keller's smoke shop in Annapolis sees regular customers coming in, as they do on a daily basis, to have a smoke. However, a pending increase in tobacco taxes is threatening his livelihood.

Keller, who took over The Smoke Shop from his uncle in 1966, could see his business shut down if the Maryland General Assembly goes through with tax bills that include tobacco tax provisions.

Both the House and Senate version of the tax legislation would raise taxes on smokeless tobacco and so-called "little cigars." However, Keller worries that instead of bringing in tax dollars, it will drive customers away.

"It will kill the business, and in the end result, it would kill my business," Keller said. "(Our customers) say they'll just go somewhere else."

On the flip side, health advocates say that the legislation isn't about bringing in more taxes or breaking businesses; rather, it's more about protecting Maryland's youth.

"Kids are price sensitive like all of us," Vincent DeMarco, the president of Maryland's Citizens Health Initiative, said, pointing out that when the cigarette tax doubled from $1 to $2, there was a 40 percent drop of kids using cigarettes.

"If we raise the tax on these products, it will cut by one-third the number of kids using these horrible, deadly products," he said.

However, advocates against the bill say that with more than 40 tobacco stores employing dozens of people across the Free State, including Keller, the tax boost would be a job killer.