Health groups are urging the Indiana Senate to set aside its misgivings and endorse a tax hike on cigarettes.
The plan is to spend that money on Medicaid and free up existing money for roads.
But IU Health cardiologist Julie Clary argues the debate over doubling the cigarette tax shouldn't be about taxes at all, but about making it too expensive to be unhealthy.
Monique French leads the group Tobacco Free Indiana and says a cigarette tax increase would push 40,000 Hoosier smokers to quit, and dissuade 50,000 teenagers from starting.
“We have to look at the public health impact that this policy has and how it can save lives,” French says. “Not just generate revenue, but save lives as well.”
Tobacco Free Indiana brought 50 volunteers to the statehouse to lobby senators on the tax hike, led by several students from Western Boone Voice, an anti-tobacco group at Western Boone High School.
Member Bree Wilson says making the habit more expensive is the right choice.
“I fight every single day to maybe help one or two people, but if I had the power to raise my hand and say, ‘Yes, I want a $1 tax price increase on the cigarettes,’ I would raise both my hands,” Wilson says.
The extra dollar a pack passed by the House would move Indiana's cigarette tax from the nation's 17th-lowest to the 17th-highest.
Indiana last raised its cigarette tax nine years ago, to pay for the Healthy Indiana Plan insurance package. This year’s proposed $1 increase would roughly double the tax rate.