Letter: State can get jump on tobacco tax

From: Debra Richard

Tobacco cessation counselor with Reach Healthy Communities


News that state Reps. Ed Clere (R-New Albany) and Charlie Brown (D-Gary) plan to submit a bill to regulate and tax electronic cigarettes is a giant step in the right direction for Indiana. However, there’s one major detail that’s been overlooked concerning all tobacco and nicotine delivery products. Both federal and state governments have not been consistently applying an excise tax to all tobacco-related products.

For the last eight years Indiana has levied 99.5 cents to a standard pack of cigarettes. What is left out of this equation is loose tobacco (pipe and roll-your-own), small and large cigars, snuff, chew/dip, hookah, dissolvable, gels, rolling papers, tubes and electronic cigarettes and liquids.

Among the 50 states, Indiana’s tax rate ranks 31st. The highest is $4.35 in New York. The national average is $1.54 per pack. Some cities also have an additional tax. Unfortunately, Indiana’s smoking rate is among the highest nationwide — 22 percent. That’s over 1 million people. Every year 11,000 Hoosiers lose their lives to tobacco-related illnesses.

Increasing the cigarette tax by $1 would reduce youth smoking by 13.3 percent, save the lives of 32,500 Hoosiers from premature smoking-caused death and result in $2.08 billion in long-term health care savings. Directing that revenue to prevention and cessation programs makes cents and sense.

Indiana receives annual installments of the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement from the tobacco industry of between $125 million and $150 million, depending on sales volume each year, but fails to meet the level of prevention funding recommended by the CDC. Statewide funding continues to be cut. Only $5.8 million was allocated to the Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Commission to disburse across 92 counties. The dollar figures for health care and disability benefits related to tobacco products are staggering and continue to climb.

While the Food and Drug Administration studies e-cigarettes and slowly figures out how to regulate tobacco products, Indiana can deliver a one-two punch. I’ll applaud Indiana for getting a jump on the latest players in the tobacco ring. I just encourage our representatives to make a TKO and include all tobacco and nicotine delivery products in this fight.