Legislators must stamp out tobacco’s detrimental effects

By Bryan Mills, Lisa Harris, Kevin Leahy, Dennis Murphy and Jonathan Nalli

As leaders of Central Indiana’s five largest health systems – Community Health Network, Eskenazi Health, Franciscan Alliance, Indiana University Health and St. Vincent Health – we support legislation that improves the health of our citizens.

Indiana hospitals serve more than 3 million patients each year through inpatient and emergency visits, employ more than 150,000 Hoosiers and account for $31.3 billion in economic activity.

But despite the high-quality care provided by Indiana’s medical community, Indiana still ranks near the bottom nationwide in overall health – 39th out of 50 – and a primary reason is tobacco use.

Nearly 21 percent of Hoosiers smoke, falling behind the national average of 15 percent. Indiana’s high smoking rate includes more than 16 percent of expectant mothers and 4,100 youth who become new daily smokers each year.

It’s no secret that tobacco use leads to cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung disease, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, among other diseases.

Out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia, Indiana has the ninth highest lung cancer rate and 14th highest heart disease rate. Smoking also takes a toll on the smoker’s family and contributes to Indiana’s infant mortality rate, which ranks seventh highest nationwide.

Indiana must do more to improve our health metrics, and tackling tobacco is the best place to start. We hope that during the 2017 session, the Indiana General Assembly will enact legislation that addresses the underlying issues related to Indiana’s high smoking rate. We support a $1.50 per pack increase in the price of cigarettes and committing an additional $35 million annually to fund tobacco cessation and prevention programs.

To round out this public health initiative, we urge the General Assembly to also enact House Bill 1578, which repeals outdated laws giving preferential treatment to smokers in the workplace. This would allow employers to more effectively manage rising health care costs and improve our economic competitiveness. HB 1578 has passed the House of Representatives and awaits action in the Senate.

Every day, Indiana’s hospitals see firsthand the detrimental effects of tobacco use on patients and their families. Hoosiers who smoke visit health care professionals up to six times more often than non-smokers, and are admitted to the hospital almost twice as often.

Eleven thousand Hoosiers die prematurely each year from smoking-related illnesses. With a comprehensive plan for reducing tobacco use, we can save lives threatened by smoking-related illnesses, lower health care costs for all Hoosiers, and make Indiana a healthier place to live and work.

This was submitted by Bryan Mills, president and CEO of Community Health Network; Lisa Harris, M.D. and CEO of Eskenazi Health; Kevin Leahy, president and CEO, Franciscan Alliance; Dennis Murphy, president and CEO of Indiana University Health; and Jonathan Nalli, CEO of St. Vincent – Indiana. Send comments to editorial@therepublic.com.