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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, March 16, 2016 9:12 am

Health groups see opportunity in cigarette tax

Where Indiana lawmakers saw discouraging budget news last week, a coalition of Indiana health groups saw opportunity: An increase in the cigarette tax could easily make up the $213 million difference between revenue projections in December and the amount actually collected.

 "Indiana lawmakers can adopt an easy and practical solution to both raise revenues and save money – raise the tobacco tax by one dollar," Lindsay Lux, campaign coordinator for Hoosiers For A Healthier Indiana, said in a news release after the revenue report was released. "This is a win-win for all Hoosiers that pays both immediate and long-term rewards, replacing much of the revenue gap and cutting taxpayer-funded health care costs."

Hoosiers For A Healthier Indiana represents more than 50 organizations statewide, including the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association in Indiana, Fort Wayne Urban League and Tobacco Free Allen County.

The coalition’s suggestion is likely to find few supporters in a General Assembly where tax hikes are an abomination, but there are plenty of reasons to raise the cigarette excise tax rate beyond the revenue it would generate.

• Indiana is 45th worst in the nation for prevalence of cigarette smoking among adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

• More than 13 percent of Indiana youth smoke, according to the Indiana Prevention Resource Center.

• Even with increasing regulation of smoking, the percentage of Hoosiers who reported being exposed to secondhand smoke within the previous seven days was 53.4 percent, ranking Indiana 47th among the states.

•  Raising the price of cigarettes by 10 percent has been demonstrated to reduce smoking in children by at least 7 percent and in adults by 4 percent.

• Cigarette smoking is a known risk for premature birth, birth defects and infant death. Only six states have higher infant mortality rates than Indiana. 

For lawmakers still uneasy about the prospect of raising the tobacco tax rate, consider neighboring Ohio, where a survey released last month found 69 percent of voters approve of increasing tobacco taxes by $1 per pack. Support held across political parties, age groups, education and income levels. Republican Gov. John Kasich last year proposed raising Ohio’s tobacco tax rate, now at $1.25 a pack, by 60 cents.

Indiana’s current rate of 99.5 cents a pack is the 32nd highest rate in the nation. With a $1-a-pack increase, it would move to 17th highest – higher than Ohio and Kentucky, but about the same asIllinois and Michigan. Even an increase of less than $1 per pack would discourage smoking and improve health outcomes overall.

The American Lung Association puts the cost of smoking in Indiana at $4.8 billion a year, yet the state continues to trim the share of the master tobacco settlement revenue dedicated to prevention and cessation efforts. Indiana spent about $35 million a year in the early 2000s; the governor proposed just $5 million a year in the next biennial budget.

The health coalition is on the right track – raising the tobacco tax is an opportunity Indiana can’t afford to miss.