We hope an old saying repeated recently by Indiana Chamber of Commerce CEO Kevin Brinegar holds true as it relates to raising the cigarette tax in Indiana.
“Good ideas in the General Assembly take at least three years to pass and bad ideas only take one,” Brinegar said, noting that the 2019 session of the Legislature will be the third in which health and business advocates have teamed up to push for a higher cigarette tax and the health benefits it could yield.
We’re all for holding the line on taxes when it comes to property, income and any product that, when used properly, doesn’t make people sick and put the state at an economic disadvantage.
Cigarettes are not such a product. That they’re a health hazard for individuals is settled science. And they’re bad for Indiana in economic terms, costing the state $7.6 billion a year in health care costs, productivity losses and costs related to premature deaths, according to the Raise it for Health Coalition, a group of 130 partner organizations across the state that are pushing legislators to act.
Along with health advocates, business organizations like the state chamber and individual companies are leading the charge.
“The cost of Hoosiers’ poor health is to Indiana what real estate costs are to San Francisco and poor infrastructure is to the Northeast. It cancels out many of Indiana’s other benefits,” said Dave Ricks, chairman and CEO of Eli Lilly and Co., in a Raise It for Health testimonial.
The coalition proposes raising the state cigarette tax by $2 per pack, which would boost the state into the top 10 nationally and help more Hoosiers quit smoking or avoid the habit to begin with.
As it is, the number of people who smoke in Indiana is 50 percent higher than the national average. That contributes to the state’s lagging health rankings and high infant mortality rate.
Indiana ranks a woeful 42nd in infant mortality, and 14 percent of pregnant Hoosiers smoke, which is twice the national average.
Raise It for Health estimates a $2 boost in the cigarette tax would help 70,000 adults quit smoking, prevent 58,000 youth from starting, and generate $358 million in revenue in the first year alone that could be dedicated to helping more adults quit smoking, treat opioid addiction and address other urgent public-health issues.
Indiana’s anti-tax mentality has sunk cigarette-tax proposals in previous legislative sessions.
We know that sentiment is hard-wired in many Hoosiers, but this is one case where a higher tax is good for business. Some have even suggested promoting the extra $2 per pack as a fee instead of a tax. If that’s what it takes for some legislators to get on board, we’re all for it. And, by all means, specify that the extra revenue raised be spent on smoking-cessation and other public-health programs.
While they’re at it, lawmakers should raise the legal age for purchasing cigarettes from 18 to 21.
Unfortunately, in the face of decades of scientific evidence about the deadly consequences of smoking, too many Hoosiers seem to need more incentives to quit. Legislators shouldn’t hesitate to provide them.