Almost a year after the University Senate passed measures to limit smoking on the campus, the state General Assembly is hearing a bill that would make the University System of Maryland pay for smoking bans at its institutions.
A bill introduced by Del. John Wood (D-Charles and St. Mary’s) and backed by tobacco lobbyist Bruce Bereano would reduce the amount of money going to universities that adopt “smoke-free” policies. The deduction would be proportionate to the amount of revenue the state receives from tobacco taxes, which accounts for 2.8 percent of the state’s total revenue, according to recent state projections. If the bill passes, university system funds would take a similar hit percentagewise, which equates to about $33.8 million in fiscal year 2015.
By enacting smoking bans and limitations, supporters argue, universities are limiting tobacco product sales in the area and the amount of tax revenue the state generates. If universities want to adopt such policies, Bereano said, they shouldn’t also be allowed to take state money that might have been generated through the tax.
“While they’re impacting that revenue stream, they’re getting all the ‘dirty money,’” Bereano told the House Appropriations Committee in Annapolis on Thursday. “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.”
In June, this university joined the university system in implementing a policy to ban smoking on the campus, indoors and outdoors, as well as in school vehicles. However, the ban isn’t universal and there are some exceptions, such as this university’s four designated smoking areas.
“We just don’t want smoking all over the place and this is something that has been overwhelmingly supported by students, staff, faculty,” System Government Relations Vice Chancellor P.J. Hogan said.
Hogan was also skeptical that the university benefits from tobacco product revenues. He said it’s difficult to know exactly how much of the state’s higher education funding, at more than $1 billion each year, comes directly from these revenues.
“The dollars don’t have little serial numbers on them, where you can say, ‘This dollar was generated by a sale of a package of cigarettes,’ and trace it,” Hogan said. “The whole discussion is a little strange.”
At a committee hearing for the bill, Del. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City) said she found the bill unfair, in that tobacco companies took so long to disclose the negative health impacts of their products, but universities might be forced to pay for responding to those health revelations.
“We see a bill where academic institutions are targeted to bear the brunt, and what amounts to sanctions, for engaging what they actually believe based on now-revealed evidence” about the dangers of not only smoking, but also secondhand smoke, Washington said at the hearing.
Wood said the money collected from tobacco products should be earmarked for public health purposes, and Hogan argued that if that is the case, the university system would be a perfect candidate to receive the money.
“We provide smoking cessation programs. We have the school of public health, a medical school — there is money going to health-related programs,” Hogan said.