INDIANAPOLIS — Two dozen healthcare organizations have sent a letter to Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb asking him to prioritize a cigarette tax increase this year.
Indiana ranks 41st in the country for overall health; a vulnerable position, health experts say, in the midst of a global pandemic.
“We’ve been pushing for this for a while in part because Indiana’s health rankings are so bad across-the-board,” said Bryan Hannon, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network’s Indiana government relations director.
Whether it’s obesity, infant mortality, diabetes, he says, “so many things are linked back to Indiana’s high smoking rate.”
That’s why more than 200 healthcare, business, and youth organizations have backed this effort by signing a letter, asking Holcomb and lawmakers to increase the cigarette tax by $2 per pack.
“If somebody smokes and they are more likely to have heart disease or they’re more likely to have lung disease, and then if they get COVID on top of that, that is just devastating for them,” said Dr. Emily Scott, president of the Indiana chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. “So our population in Indiana is starting an unhealthy baseline when they get COVID and that has serious implications for all of us.”
Hannon said about one-in-five adult Hoosiers smoke, which is one of the highest smoking rates in the country.
“The public support is there,” Hannon said. “Over the years, we’ve been able to demonstrate that about 70% of Hoosier voters support an increase in the cigarette tax.”
Equally as troubling, it’s about the same rate for youth who smoke.
“Raising the cigarette tax is not only a cessation effort to help curb adults smokers to quit but it also raises a barrier of entry for youth who are price-sensitive but also very impressionable and can be attracted to these flavorful and acute tobacco products,” Hannon said.
“We know a tax increase would do that,” Scott said. “There’s actually really good evidence that a 20% increase in a tobacco tax would decrease the number of kids who start smoking by double digits. And it would also increase the number of teens who quit by double digits, as well.”
The more unhealthy our state is, Scott says, has an impact on all of us in terms of our healthcare costs
“Indiana’s cigarette tax rate is below the national average,” Hannon said. “It’s been 14 years since we’ve last raised the cigarette tax. In that time, over the last 14 years, states and local governments have raised the cigarette tax dozens of times.”
If we generate more revenue through this tax increase, advocates say, we can use that money elsewhere. Indiana ranks 48th in the country for the amount of money we dedicate to public health funding.
“We need to make our state healthier,” Scott said. “We cannot continue to be at the absolute bottom of our nation in terms of health rankings.”