Business, health leaders call for lawmakers to triple cigarette tax

A coalition of business and health professionals launched a campaign Thursday calling for Indiana lawmakers to increase the state’s cigarette tax by $2 per pack during the 2019 legislative session.

For the second straight year, the Raise it for Health Coalition is pushing for raising the cigarette tax, which is currently $1 per pack. The group is made up of more than 130 partner organizations.

Kevin Brinegar, CEO of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber works to make the state an attractive business climate with low taxes, limited regulations and a good infrastructure.

But the state lags the rest of the nation in health measures with a smoking rate that is 50 percent higher than the national average. Indiana ranks 38th in overall health.

“We don’t generally strive just to be average,” Brinegar said. “But if we were average in this category, we would be saving employers billions of dollars a year.”

Brinegar said smokers in the workplace cost employers $6.2 billion in higher health care costs, absenteeism and lost productivity.

Emily Scott, vice president of the Indiana Academy of Pediatrics, works primarily with babies and sees the effects of smoking everyday.

“Babies are especially vulnerable to the effects of tobacco use during a mom’s pregnancy,” Scott said.

Scott said pregnant women who smoke are depriving their babies of oxygen, making it more likely for the child to be born premature, at a low birth weight or with a cleft lip or cleft palate, or worse, dying in infancy.

“Unfortunately, these risks add up to big problems in Indiana,” Scott said. The state ranks 42nd in infant mortality.

Scott said there are 12,000 smoking-affected births each year in Indiana, and 14 percent of pregnant women smoke, or twice the national average.

“When a women smokes during her pregnancy, there is a higher chance that she will not take home a healthy baby from the hospital,” Scott said.

Raise it for Health Coalition data projects if lawmakers would increase the state’s cigarette tax by $2 per pack, the state would raise more than $350 million and Indiana would be in the top 10 for public health funding if all cigarette tax revenue is put toward health initiatives.

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