Raise cigarette tax for Hoosier health


South Bend Tribune

As the alliance of Indiana health and business groups pushes yet again for the legislature to raise the cigarette tax, let’s hope that the third time’s the charm.

The upcoming legislative session will mark the advocates’ third effort to sell lawmakers on the idea. Raise it for Health, a statewide coalition of 139 health, business, youth and community groups, is asking the General Assembly to hike Indiana’s cigarette tax by $2 per pack. The coalition contends that tripling the state’s cigarette tax, which currently is 99.5 cents per pack — the nation’s 14th lowest — will significantly reduce smoking rates. The group says the change also would generate up to $350 million a year in new revenue that could be used to tackle other Hoosier health issues, such as drug addiction and infant mortality.

There’s no denying Indiana’s poor health rankings — 39 among states in overall health — or that smoking is a big factor in its woeful showing. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 1 in 5 Hoosier adults smoke cigarettes, as do 11.2 percent of Indiana high school students, both above the national average.

A 2016 report found that each year smoking causes more than 11,000 Hoosiers to die prematurely and secondhand smoke causes the premature deaths of an additional 1,400 Indiana residents.

The coalition also points to how Indiana’s failing health affects the state’s bottom line — $7.6 million in health care costs, productivity losses and costs related to premature deaths.

Previous attempts to increase the cigarette tax have failed in the Republican-controlled legislature. This despite substantial public support: Seventy-two percent of Hoosiers back an increase, according to a recent survey conducted by Ball State University and Old National Bank.

Count us among those who believe that lawmakers should raise the cigarette tax. And they should direct the money generated toward smoking cessation and other related programs. A state that puts far too little in public health needs to invest in a healthier future.

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