Editorial: Congress should approve Sen. Todd Young’s bill to boost smoking age

Keywords Editorials / Opinion

U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., impressed us this month when he and three other senators (one Republican and two Democrats) introduced legislation to raise the age at which people can buy tobacco products to 21.

Young said he introduced the bill because “the nationwide epidemic of tobacco and electronic cigarette use among high school and middle school students can no longer be ignored.” He pointed to statistics that say roughly 95 percent of adult smokers picked up the habit before the age of 21.

IBJ wholeheartedly agrees and endorses Young’s efforts—especially in the wake of the Indiana General Assembly’s disappointing failure to act on a similar proposal as well as a bill that would have significantly increased the cigarette tax. That’s despite strong support for both bills from a broad spectrum of business, religious, health and not-for-profit organizations.

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce was among them. “Smoking is costing employers and the state more than $6 billion annually in lost productivity and health care,” Indiana Chamber President Kevin Brinegar said in a statement in January. “Research has shown that significantly increasing what a pack of cigarettes costs and upping the legal age to smoke do yield positive results.”

Indiana has one of the nation’s highest smoking rates, with 1 million Hoosiers smoking every day, but its 99.5 cents a pack cigarette tax is the nation’s 14th-lowest.

Raise It for Health, a coalition formed to push the cigarette tax increase, argued that Indiana ranks 39th among states in the overall health of its residents—with smoking rates the primary factor for the state’s low ranking.

“What’s worse is that as other states are improving their tobacco utilization rate, Indiana is moving in the wrong direction with an adult smoking rate that is 50 percent above the national average,” said Bryan Mills, CEO of Community Health Network.

A $2-per-pack increase in the tax could have generated more than $300 million in annual revenue, money the state could have used to launch a campaign to urge smokers to quit and to provide them with evidenced-based tools to do so—the kind of campaign that has proven successful in other states, including Florida.

Indiana launched a similar approach years ago, when—using money from the 1997 Master Tobacco Settlement—it began dedicating about $35 million a year for smoking cessation programs, making the state one of the leaders in tobacco-control efforts. And the programs showed early signs of success.

But over the years, lawmakers siphoned away the money and all but dismantled the state’s anti-smoking programs. By 2017, Indiana was dedicating just about $6 million in state funding each year to smoking cessation efforts, according to a report prepared for the Richard M. Fairbanks Foundation.

Such short-sighted decisions are costing Indiana governments, businesses and individuals billions of dollars in increased health care costs. It’s fairly rare we say this, but at IBJ, we’re grateful Congress may be stepping in to help. Let’s hope Indiana lawmakers take action next year to make further federal steps unnecessary.•

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