No easy answer to cigarette tax

The Tribune

When it comes to public health, it’s no secret that Indiana ranks among one of the worst states in the country.

But that doesn’t mean Hoosiers should be taxed because of their unhealthy habits.

Indiana currently ranks 12th worst for overall health and 49th lowest in public health funding.

In Indiana, the cancer, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease rates are some of the highest in the nation. The figures for infant mortality are also tragically high — an issue that Jackson County has also grappled with in recent years.

Many health officials have pointed to smoking as a major cause of such health problems, as more than 19% of Hoosier adults smoke.

In an effort to improve public health — and bring in more tax revenue — a contingent of more than 20 organizations, led by a push by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, are lobbying for the Indiana General Assembly to increase the cigarette tax from $99.5 cents per pack to $3. The last time the state changed the rate was in 2007.

The organizations claim that raising the tax would help 100,000 Hoosiers quit or prevent tobacco addiction, and that if Legislature decided to bump the cost up $2, it would generate roughly $360 million in the first year alone.

Currently, Indiana ranks 38th lowest in the country on cigarette taxes.

While an increase in taxes would bring money back to the state, and help the overall public health outlook, the timing for such a measure isn’t good given the COVID-19 economy.

Local legislators have brought up some good points in their reluctance for such a bill.

During Monday’s Third House session, Rep. Ryan Lauer, R-Columbus, said he would be opposed to the tax, as 60% of tobacco users are lower income, and that it’s not right to further tax them in the current financial climate.

Lauer is correct in his assessment — why exacerbate a financial wound for those already struggling?

Along similar thoughts, State Sen. Greg Walker, R-Columbus, said he has been against similar “sin taxes” for years. He also raised concerns that businesses on the borders would lose substantial revenue if their customers go across state lines to buy less expensive cigarettes.

The House has not yet introduced a piece of legislation, but the topic has been discussed.

Lawmakers should seriously weigh the positives and negatives of such a tax this session if a bill is presented. Smoking is a public health issue that needs to be addressed, but taxing citizens isn’t necessarily the right answer to the problem.

Send comments to [email protected].