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The Journal Gazette

Sunday, December 09, 2018 1:00 am

Editorial

Cigarette tax increase vital step to better health

For much of this year, a once-unlikely alliance of health and business leaders has promoted awareness of the vital link between public health and our state's economic well-being. Now it's time for those who concur with the message of the Alliance for a Healthier Indiana to push for solutions. Job One should be increasing the tax on cigarette purchases.

The alliance, which includes the state Chamber of Commerce and the Indiana Medical and Hospital associations, put on a series of “road shows” to raise awareness of the state's dismal health rankings.

As they emphasized in a Fort Wayne presentation in June, smoking, obesity, infant mortality, diabetes, mental illness and substance abuse drag down the state's overall health, cost billions of dollars annually and work powerfully against efforts to attract new businesses and develop and retain skilled workers.

Here and around the state, there are myriad efforts under way to take on these challenges.

The response to the opioid epidemic, for instance, is beginning to show results. But though smoking causes by far the most deaths, efforts to turn Hoosiers away from tobacco addiction have stalled.

More than one in five adult Hoosiers smokes, according to the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation – the 41st-worst rate in America. Twelve thousand, five hundred Hoosiers die prematurely each year because of smoking and secondhand smoke – more people than live in Kendallville, Bluffton or Columbia City.

The financial impact of tobacco-related deaths and illnesses is also staggering: $3.3 billion in direct health care expenses, including almost $540 million in added Medicaid costs, Fairbanks estimates, resulting in “an unnecessary combined annual state and federal tax burden of $1,125 for each Indiana household.”

In addition, smoking imposes myriad burdens on businesses, including “increased absenteeism, greater disability claims, reduced work performance while on the job, higher insurance premiums, lost work time spent on smoking breaks, and other factors.”

The single most effective thing Indiana could do to lower those numbers would be to increase the tax on cigarettes, which now is one of the lowest in the Midwest.

The $2-per-pack increase advocated by the Healthier Indiana coalition would encourage thousands of adults to quit smoking and deter thousands of young people from starting.

Fairbanks estimates that would prevent the future deaths of more than 36,000 living Hoosiers – more than twice the population of New Haven – and eventually bring $2.7 billion in health care savings.

The tax would also generate almost $2 billion over the next five years, revenue that could be directed into stop-smoking campaigns as well as other state health care needs, including the fight against opioid addiction, funding HIP 2.0, recruiting and training health professionals, and helping expectant and new mothers.

In a state not known for its fondness for taxes, 72 percent of respondents told the 2018 Ball State Hoosier Survey they would favor a $2-per-pack increase if the money were used for such purposes. That leaves just one key audience to persuade – the men and women of the Indiana legislature.