State Chamber pushes for increase in cigarette tax

By Joseph Slacian

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce is urging Hoosier lawmakers to consider increasing the state’s cigarette tax by $2 per pack.

In addition, they also are encouraging lawmakers to consider increasing the legal smoking age to 21.

Chamber officials announced the plan last week in a press release, in light of the state’s tight budget expectations for the next two years. The money, they believe, should go where the state has the greatest needs.

Contacted by The Paper of Wabash County, Dan Gray, Wabash County Tobacco Free Coalition executive director, said he was aware of the movement.

“Indiana has one of the nation's highest smoking rates, with 1 million Hoosiers smoking every day,” he said.  “Its 99.5 cents a pack cigarette tax is the nation's 14th-lowest.  Based on a comprehensive review of evidence, the Surgeon General has called raising prices on cigarettes ‘one of the most effective tobacco control interventions’ because increasing price is proven to reduce smoking, especially among kids.”

However, unlike the Chamber, Gray believes new tax funds should go toward smoking prevention programs.

“I believe that the funds that come from the cigarette tax increase should go towards smoking prevention programs and treatment,” he said. “Indiana devotes just $8.2 million in federal and state spending to preventing Hoosiers from starting to smoke, helping them quit, and protecting people from secondhand smoke. This is only 11 percent of the $73.5 million recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and far behind other states’ funding levels, according to the study by researchers at the Health Policy Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“Indiana’s per-person tobacco control funding at $1.23, is less than half of the national average of $2.92.”

He also supports the proposal to raise the legal smoking age to 21.

“I do believe raising the age to 21 to purchase tobacco is a positive step towards youth tobacco prevention,” Gray said.  Those that are under 18 will always find alternative ways to get their hands on cigarettes or tobacco.  However, increasing the age will broaden the gap of those under 18 to have access to tobacco. 

“There are teens under 18 that have friends who are 18.  It is less likely they will have friends that are 21.  Increasing the purchase age will not eliminate youth access but will help minimize their access.  We have a responsibility to do whatever we can to prevent youth from starting the use of any form of tobacco.”

Smoking-related diseases and death cost Indiana $6.1 billion a year, roughly $903 per household.

“In 1999, the General Assembly displayed great wisdom in enacting legislation that allocated $35 million annually from Indiana's portion of the National Tobacco Settlement for a comprehensive state tobacco- prevention program,” Gray said. “The legislation created an independent agency with a governing board to administer what developed into a nationally acclaimed program. This structure served to preserve the agency's focus and at least partially insulate it from politics and tobacco-industry influence. 

“Unfortunately, the agency was dismantled in 2010 and transferred to the Indiana State Department of Health. That move signaled to many involved in tobacco control as the beginning of the end for tobacco prevention in Indiana.”
In addition to the smoking measure, the Chamber will push for the state to pass a bias crimes law.

“It’s not only the right thing to do, it is important to helping our employers recruit and retain talented employees,” State Chamber President Kevin Brinegar said. “Indiana is a welcoming place and we must enact every policy possible to convey that message to those outside of our state.”

The chamber also will be going on the defensive regarding medical marijuana, according to the release, noting it is opposed to that as well as legalizing recreational use.

Other top priorities for the Chamber include increased broadband access to rural communities, moving up the effective date for making the state superintendent an appointed position, and significant planning for and investing in Indiana’s water infrastructure.

Posted on 2019 Jan 08