State legislators have low interest in high smoking rates

It’s hardly shocking news to learn that Indiana has one of the highest smoking rates in the nation.

Nor should it come as a surprise to anyone who’s paying attention that in the most recent legislative session, state lawmakers failed once again to act on this public health issue.

For years, Indiana has failed to do the right thing by Hoosiers on the issues of smoking prevention and cessation. Since 1998, Indiana has received $2.7 billion from tobacco companies as part of the master settlement agreement. But the Indiana General Assembly has continually raided money intended to pay for smoking cessation efforts and public programs aimed at helping smokers kick the habit.

And in the recently concluded session, the Republican- controlled legislature seemed unwilling to move on measures that targeted reducing the rates of tobacco use and vaping. A bill that would have increased the state’s cigarette tax died, despite backing from a broad range of interests in the state, as well as the public. And lawmakers also failed to act on raising the smoking age from 18 to 21. This summer, a committee will study vaping products.

Meanwhile, here are a couple of facts worth studying: More than one in five Indiana adults smoke cigarettes, while the percentage of high school students using e-cigarettes in 2016 — the last year for which data is available — is double what it was in 2012, according to the Indiana State Department of Health.

With no reason to believe that state lawmakers will act in their best interests, Hoosiers are left to root for a national proposal. Todd Young, Indiana’s senior senator, introduced a bipartisan bill that would prohibit the sale of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, to anyone under the age of 21. In an recent interview, Young noted that public health experts call the move an “incredibly impactful policy change.”

Too bad Indiana lawmakers, who could make an impact on a public health scourge, have chosen not to do so.