INDIANAPOLIS—Indiana currently ranks sixth in the nation for adult smokers, according to the CDC.
Today, organizations like the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) are sharing their concerns about tobacco use in Indiana. ACS CAN’s Raise It For Health campaign is pushing Indiana state legislators to raise the tobacco tax by $2, from the current rate of $0.995 for a 20-cigarette pack.
Bryan Hannon, ACS regional government relations director and member of the Raise It For Health coalition, said public health has not been treated as an important issue by lawmakers.
“I wish they would do something positive for public health,” Hannon said. “Public health has been ignored for too long in Indiana – bigger than COVID-19, bigger than vaccinations.”
Hannon also said that with lawmakers ignoring public health, more problems are created downstream, and if tobacco taxes were increased, the money could be better spent elsewhere.
“It would increase revenue for public health programs,” he said.
ACS CAN’s other concern for lawmakers is to improve access to colorectal screenings.
“We know colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable forms of cancer if Hoosiers have access to screenings,” Hannon said in a press release. “ACS CAN is asking lawmakers to prioritize the elimination of cost sharing for all preventative colorectal cancer screenings, including follow-up colonoscopies after an abnormal stool-based test.
“Several other states have already passed this type of legislation, and it’s time for Indiana to do the same.”
Illinois is 21st on the CDC’s adult smokers list, which may be because the state has a much higher tobacco tax at $2.98 per pack. In the city of Chicago, smokers must pay $8.17 in taxes to buy a 20-pack, with city, state, and federal taxes combined.
Hannon praised Rep. Ann Vermilion, R-Marion, and Rep. Brad Barrett, R-Richmond, for co-authoring 2021 HB 1007, which highlighted Hoosier’s health and safety.
Rep. Robin Shackleford, D-Indianapolis, was another co-sponsor of the bill. She said that every year Indiana gets closer to a possible tobacco tax increase, but in the past lawmakers have faced a lot of backlash from Hoosiers.
“It’s just hard to increase it once people figure out what something costs. You get a lot of pushback from the tobacco industry, from tobacco users,” Shackleford said. “So you get backlash from both sides who don’t want to see this tax increase. We tried several attempts to increase it, but at the same time, it’s just that a lot of people come out in opposition.
Shackleford said that in the future, the tobacco tax could be discussed again.
“I’m sure we’ll see him come back next year because it has to be done in a budget cycle,” Shackleford said. “I thought it was almost going to happen last year, but I think we kind of got distracted by some of the COVID-19s and worked on these funding bills. Hopefully this is something we can pass in the future.
In 2019, Raise It For Health conducted a study asking Hoosiers what they would think of a $2 tobacco tax increase. Seventy percent of voters were in favor and only 29% opposed.
Hannon said his organization understands that new public health legislation will not be enacted overnight due to the shortness of the 2022 session, but he thinks the 2023 session could focus on issues such as tobacco use and obesity, which have also been shown to increase the negative effects of COVID-19.
Ashlyn Myers is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.