Editorial: It’s past time for the Legislature to increase the cigarette tax

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For several years, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce has urged the Indiana General Assembly to increase the state’s cigarette tax as a way to lower health care costs and decrease the unacceptably high number of Hoosiers who die from smoking-related diseases.

The Indiana General Assembly has repeatedly failed to heed the call, and it appears this year will be no different. So far, no legislation has been introduced in the 2024 legislative session to accomplish the task despite support from the chamber, Indiana representatives of the American Cancer Society and other health care advocates.

It is understandable that it might be politically difficult for lawmakers to consider any sort of tax increase in an election year in which 125 of the 150 state legislators will have to face voters. But it represents an issue of such import that we believe they should put their own political livelihoods aside.

A year ago, we said it was time for the Legislature to increase the cigarette tax. Now, it is past time.

More than 11,000 people in Indiana die prematurely each year from cigarette smoking, and more than 1,400 die prematurely from exposure to secondhand smoke, according to Rethink Tobacco Indiana.

And Indiana has more than its fair share of deaths. The Hoosier adult smoking rate is 10th-highest in the country, at 19.2%; the national rate is 13.7%.

We are all paying a price for Indiana’s high tobacco use. It results in $7.6 billion in health care costs and lost productivity in Indiana each year.

As Dr. Richard Feldman, the state’s former health commissioner, has noted, these losses include $590 million in state Medicaid costs and an additional cost of $5,800 yearly to businesses and industries for each employee who smokes.

We are hopeful the $75 million in new grants the Legislature last year decided to devote to local public health initiatives will help. Under the Health First Indiana program, tobacco and vaping prevention and cessation are part of the focus.

But there is an additional approach that could put an even bigger dent in Indiana’s smoking rate: significantly raising the state cigarette tax and making smoking more cost-prohibitive.

Lawmakers have shown a great reluctance to do so, even though Indiana’s tax is the 39th-lowest in the country at 99 cents per pack.

In fact, the Legislature in 2022 actually lowered the tax on vaping products, reducing it from 25% of the wholesale price to 15%. Lawmakers argued the change simply corrected an error while creating more parity with similar products.

Legislators last year rejected a push for a $2-per-pack tax increase, a move that would generate another $371 million a year for public health initiatives.

As we said last year, Hoosiers deserve a better outcome. It’s past time for the Legislature to look beyond the influence of the tobacco lobby and raise the cigarette tax.•

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