This editorial first appeared in the South Bend Tribune.
After years of failing to put adequate resources into fighting the losses — measured in human lives and dollars and cents — tied to Indiana’s above-average smoking rate, state lawmakers found another way to signal their disregard for the issue.
Indiana House Republicans killed a bill that would have increased the legal age for buying tobacco products from 18 to 21. The measure by Democratic Rep. Charlie Brown had the support of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and veterans groups. A House panel had passed the bill by a 9-0 vote.
House Speaker Brian Bosma used a procedural maneuver to kill the bill. House Republicans defended their decision by claiming that the bill would have an immediate financial impact — according to their calculations, it would cost the state $14 million per year in lost cigarette tax revenue.
Brown argued that the bill would save money in the long run, that if fewer people smoke, the cost of health care to the state would decrease as well. Latorya Greene of the local coalition Smoke Free St. Joe, had offered another reason for backing the measure: She says 90 percent of smokers started smoking before age 18 and “any measure that can delay that, we truly support.”
Not surprisingly the bill was opposed by the convenience store lobby, which said that it would cost them revenue, drive people to other states to buy tobacco and lead to an increase in cigarette bootlegging.
By refusing to even allow the measure to be brought up for a vote, House Republicans further demonstrate how low this health and economic issue ranks on their list of priorities.
This despite a 2016 report found that each year smoking causes more than 11,000 Hoosiers to die prematurely and secondhand smoke causes the premature deaths of an additional 1,400 Indiana residents. And that disability claims, absenteeism and “lost time from smoking rituals” cost Indiana businesses an estimated $2.6 billion per year in lost productivity.
In an ideal world, Indiana lawmakers wouldn’t have raided money from the 1998 State Tobacco Settlement, money specifically intended to pay for smoking cessation efforts and public initiatives. In an ideal world, the state wouldn’t have shortchanged programs to help smokers quit and prevent youth from picking up the habit in the first place.
But this isn’t an ideal world; this is Indiana, where a sincere effort to attack the problem can’t even get a vote.
Send comments to email@example.com.