Advocates push to raise Indiana’s smoking age, cigarette tax and repeal ‘smokers bill of rights’

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INDIANAPOLIS – A major coalition of business, healthcare, non-profit and education leaders unveiled their push Thursday to raise Indiana’s cigarette tax by $1.50 per pack.

The group is calling the movement ‘Raise it for Health’ and is promising a major statewide campaign “on a scale not seen before in Indiana public health policy advocacy.”

“It’s time for Indiana to quit being the bottom problem for all these health statistics,” Dr. John McGoff said, an emergency room physician and incoming president of the Indiana State Medical Association.

During a news conference at the Statehouse, the group unveiled the findings of a new statewide Bellwether Research and Consulting poll which showed 69 percent of Hoosiers favoring a cigarette tax increase.

The proposal would raise Indiana’s tax from 99.5 cents to $2.495 per pack, which would more align with neighboring states in the Midwest and across the country.

The Indiana Chamber is pushing lawmakers to go further, not only to increase state revenue but to help businesses fight rising healthcare costs associated with Indiana’s high percentage of smokers compared to the national average.

“This, as you suggested, is a big, bold idea,” Kevin Brinegar said, the chamber’s president and CEO.

The business group wants state lawmakers to increase the smoking age from 18 to 21 and repeal workplace privileges for smokers, a move Brinegar said would give employers flexibility.

“Let’s give them the ability to choose,” he said. “They don’t have to, but the choice to say you know what, we’re not going to hire any smokers.”

Beyond that, Indiana companies would be able to charge higher deductibles and co-pays for employees who smoke.

“Our employers who have plants and facilities in multiple states tell us that Indiana is consistently the highest healthcare cost state they have,” Brinegar said.

State lawmakers would need to approve any of the proposed changes.

“Raising the age from 18 to 21 may make some sense,” House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indianapolis) said.

But he was more cautious when asked about the ‘smoker bill of rights.’

“Taking rights that people feel they have today and taking them away, there might be some concern about that at the legislative level,” Bosma said.

Advocates said they are aware the change could be a slow process.

But their push  is not only related to wellness, but economics too, especially given the several hundred million dollars that could be generated from an increased cigarette tax.

The chamber wants some increased revenue to focus on tobacco prevention, but Brinegar said he’d advocate leaving the rest for lawmakers to determine its use.

Last session, as part of the House GOP transportation plan, money from an increased cigarette tax would have been used to help fund road improvements, a proposal that could resurface with another focus on transportation in the 2017 session. The move passed in the House but failed in the Senate.

“We obviously passed a cigarette tax hike last year with broad support in the House,” Bosma said. “So I’m not sure that’s the hardest of those issues.”

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