Chamber gets support from key lawmakers on raising smoking age in Indiana

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce on Monday said one of its top legislative priorities was to get state lawmakers to pass laws to decrease the smoking rate of Hoosiers and get vaping products out of the hands of young people.

The business organization announced that goal Monday during its annual legislative preview in Indianapolis. A panel discussion featuring General Assembly leaders from both parties was part of the event.

The Chamber has proposed raising the legal age to smoke in Indiana from 18 to 21. The proposal comes as the numbers of young people using e-cigarettes is rising. According to the Chamber, vaping usage among Indiana high school students increased about 387% from 2012 to 2018, and nearly as much among middle schoolers.

Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis; Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson; Senate President Pro Temp Rodric Bray, R-Martinsville; and Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, all agreed that the age must be raised to discourage minors from the buying both tobacco and vaping products.

Bosma, who had opposed raising the age in past sessions, said his mind has been changed due to appeals by veterans and members of the Armed Forces. He said he would be personally endorsing the legislation at Tuesday’s organizational meeting.

“The Armed Forces themselves have asked us to do this. They don’t allow their recruits to smoke in boot camp,” Bosma said. “They are all on board for raising the age to 21.”

Bray said he has seen the effect vaping has had on students, especially in middle schools, through his own children.

“We have watched, and I have specifically watched because I have middle school boys, the middle school and high school kids going to vaping in droves,” Bray said.

However, Bosma was adamant that the two-year budget passed in the 2019 session would not be re-opened by lawmakers in 2020, even for a change in the smoking tax, another possible way to discourage young people from buying cigarettes and vaping products.

Bosma said that the smoking and vaping age issue will need to be considered separately from the cigarette tax that both the Chamber and Democrats support.

Still, he said he and his Republican colleagues in the House have discussed dipping into the state’s surplus to pay for $300 million in capital projects in cash, as Gov. Eric Holcomb has proposed, rather than through debt. Holcomb’s proposal includes $50 million for a new swine barn at the Indiana State Fairgrounds.

Bosma and Bray said health care costs will be debated in the 2020 session, including ways to prevent people from being surprised by unexpected bills.

Austin said Democrats will be seeking ways to ways to make sure prescription drug pricing is transparent. Lanane said Senate Democrats will seek to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana possession, though he did not back legalizing marijuana as some states have done.

Lanane said Democrats will again push for a nonpartisan commission to draw legislative and congressional district lines and for tougher gun laws, including background checks on private gun sales and safe storage of firearms.

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