EDITORIAL: Lawmakers should save tobacco agency and ban smoking

When times are tight, good news can be hard to find.But here’s some good news about Indiana:

• The
proportion of high school students who smoke has fallen from 32 percent in 2000 to 18 percent in 2008.

• Cigarette
consumption has fallen from 599 million packs in 2004 to 471 million packs in 2009.

Now for the bad news: Instead
of trying to continue that success, the General Assembly may sabotage it. Here’s how:

• A House of Representatives
bill that would ban smoking in public places statewide got so bogged down with exemptions that it’s been withdrawn.
If the bill fails again for the second year, we’ll remain one of only 12 states without some sort of ban.

This
is a law that would put a more progressive face on our unhealthy state, and help save some of the 1,000-plus Hoosiers who
die every year as a result of secondhand smoke—all with no new spending.

• Senate Bill 298 would abolish
the Indiana Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Agency. The 10-year-old agency’s efforts have achieved national recognition.

In addition to its staff of 14, the agency has a 20-member board that includes representatives of major medical and
cancer groups, as well as top state officials such as the health commissioner, the attorney general and the superintendent
of public instruction.

Having such broad representation on the board helps assure that anti-tobacco programs touch
as many Hoosiers as possible, and that state agencies and not-for-profits work together to improve our common health.

Under the proposed legislation, the duties of the anti-smoking agency would be folded into the State Department of
Health. Fighting smoking would become just another responsibility for employees who already have full-time jobs. It would
be a shame to lose the expertise developed by this staff and board over the past 10 years.

Sen. Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville,
the bill’s author, claims that abolishing the agency could save the state up to $1.1 million a year. But what about
the $2.1 billion the state spends every year on medical expenses directly related to tobacco use? If those expenses keep falling,
the anti-tobacco agency could more than pay for itself.

It’s ironic that these legislative moves are taking
place just as the Indiana Cancer Consortium releases goals for reducing the prevalence of this killer disease. Among the group’s
priorities: lowering the smoking rate, enacting a comprehensive smoke-free workplace law and increasing funding for tobacco
control and prevention.

Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, as well as in Indiana,
where deaths from lung and bronchial cancer are nearly 20 percent above the national average.

If the General Assembly
wants to create some good news in this budget-conscious short session, it will continue our wise investment in Hoosier health,
and go one better by passing a statewide smoking ban.

To do otherwise would just be blowing smoke.•

__________

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