By Rachel Hoffmeyer
A coalition of Indiana health and business professionals is asking lawmakers to raise the cigarette tax and the legal smoking age with the goal of improving the health of Hoosiers.
“If Indiana was a patient, we would say that she in critical condition,” Anthem President Rob Hillman said.
In addition to increasing the cigarette tax by $1.50 per pack, the newly-formed Alliance for a Healthier Indiana is talking to lawmakers about reinvesting that money into cessation programs. They also want to raise the smoking age from 18 to 21 and repeal legislation that gives smokers protections with their employers.
Indiana ranks 44th worst in the percentage of smokers. While much of the country is improving in their smoking statistics, Indiana is not, Community Health Network President and CEO Bryan Mills said.
The alliance plans to tackle other health issues as Indiana ranks 44th worst in obesity and 36th worst in infant mortality, but the leaders are starting with tobacco.
“Compounding all this is the fact that Indiana has been ranked 48th in spending on public health which is one of the ways that you get at the health of a population,” Doug Leonard, president of the Indiana Hospital Association.
The state’s low health rankings also are making businesses interested in moving to or growing their facilities here hesitate. Kevin Brinegar, president and CEO of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, said businesses with facilities in multiple states tell him that Indiana is the most expensive in terms of health care. With nearly a quarter of Hoosiers smoking, businesses lose $3.17 billion in productivity losses and nearly $3 billion in annual health care costs.
Part of the alliance’s plan, repealing the Smoker’s Bill of Rights, would allow companies to screen potential hires for tobacco use and allow smokers to be charged higher insurance premiums.
Previous attempts to remove the Smoker’s Bill of Rights have failed. A push during the 2016 legislative session to raise the tobacco tax by $1 also failed. Under the 2016 plan, the money generated by a higher tax was a part of the plan to fund road improvements.
But Mills said with a new wave of leadership at the Statehouse during a budget session, the likelihood of the plan succeeding is high.
“The bottom line is if you look at the healthiness of our state as compared to other states, unfortunately it’s embarrassing,” Mills said, “and it’s embarrassing year, after year, after year.”
Rachel Hoffmeyer is the executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.