Cancer prevention advocates have long called for Indiana to raise its cigarette tax – something the state hasn’t done in eight years. But this session, it’s not health concerns but a road funding priority that’s finally generating momentum for the controversial move.
Hoosier smokers pay about $1.00 per pack in state cigarette taxes – that’s in the bottom third of states and lower than almost all of Indiana’s neighbors. Bryan Hannon is the state’s director of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. He cites a CDC study showing the state pays nearly a thousand dollars per household in health care costs related to tobacco use. Raising the tax, he says, could solve two problems. It would “improve public health and reduce smoking rates,” he says, “and provide some much needed injection for public health programs and other programs that legislators need to be funding.”
A study committee this year opted against recommending a cigarette tax increase. But House Republicans will likely include a one dollar hike in their infrastructure measure that would be used for road funding. The increase is meant to help offset a shift in fuel sales tax. Yet Senate fiscal leader Luke Kenley says the proposal isn’t the answer to the state’s infrastructure issues.
“Remember, the cigarette tax is a diminishing resource too,” Kenley warns. “So you’re falling to the same trap here.”
“We may run out of smokers one of these days,” he adds.
Hannon admits that raising the cigarette tax – or any tax – in an election year is a tall order.