Indiana has one of the nation’s highest smoking rates, but a bill working its way through the legislature aims to change that, in part by raising the cigarette tax by $1.50. The bill cleared the House Committee on Public Health Wednesday.
Nancy Cripe, the coordinator for Tobacco Free Allen County, spent the day before the committee vote at the statehouse to convince lawmakers to vote for the bill, as part of Raise It For Health’s advocacy day. It was easy work.
“Everyone I’ve talked to has been supportive of raising the tobacco tax,” she says. “So I’m excited about that.”
The cause of reducing smoking in Indiana is personal for Cripe. She says her sister smokes, which caused her to develop macular degeneration.
“She’s going blind, and she cannot talk on the phone to me without starting to cough after about one full sentence,” Cripe says. “She still swears to me up and down she enjoys smoking.”
Cripe says that’s the addicted brain talking.
She hopes a tax increase would make her sister quit, and keep other people from smoking, too. Studies show that raising the cigarette tax can keep people from buying their first pack, and there’s some evidence that raising the price can lead people to quit.
The bill would also raise the smoking age to 21, and put $35 million toward tobacco prevention and cessation each year. Right now, the state spends under $6 million.
“So we need that money to be investing in...preventing our kids from using and helping people to quit,” Cripe says.
Between medical costs and lost productivity, smoking costs the state of Indiana $6.8 billion a year, according to a recent report from the Fairbanks School of Public Health. And the habit costs more than 11,000 lives each year.
Those numbers dwarf the human and financial cost of the opioid epidemic. Cripe says more people need to see tobacco use as the epidemic it is.
“We need to be throwing the same kind of resources at tobacco, because there are more people affected,” she says.