Errington wants Indiana to place a premium on keeping people healthy

March 14, 2017 Sue Errington

For immediate release:
March 14, 2017

INDIANAPOLIS – State Rep. Sue Errington today released the column below to local news media:

As we begin the next phase of the 2017 session of the Indiana General Assembly, it would be great to say that the push to increase the state cigarette tax is gaining momentum.

As it now stands, a $1 increase in that tax has been included in the proposed biennial state budget that passed out of the Indiana House in February.

But that is the only thing that is certain about this issue, which can serve as an example of the twists and turns that can be found during a typical legislative session.

That we have been able to reach this point is because of one simple fact: smoking kills.

Indiana currently has our nation’s 44th worst smoking rate. A million Hoosiers smoke—23 percent, which is more than 1 of every 5 people. This rate also includes 12 percent of our high school students, many of them minors under age 18.

Smoking kills more people than alcohol, AIDS, car crashes, illegal drugs, murders, and suicides combined, and the Centers for Disease Control estimates that health care expenses in Indiana directly attributable to smoking are nearly $3 billion annually. In a state currently 48th in public health expenditures, that is a recipe for disaster.

That in mind, I signed on as an early supporter for the Raise It for Health campaign, which has two goals: raising Indiana’s cigarette tax by $1.50 per pack, and increasing annual funding for state tobacco prevention and cessation programs, so that all 92 counties will have funded programs proven to decrease tobacco use.

This effort drew unprecedented support and a $1.50 cigarette tax increase managed to get through the House Public Health Committee with few problems.

Then matters became a little cloudy.

Since the proposal had a significant fiscal impact, it went to the House Ways and Means Committee.

When it emerged from there, the proposal was now a part of the House Republican state budget plan, the increase had been shaved to $1, and the revenue generated by it was to go toward the state general fund, not tobacco prevention and cessation.

Why? Because the House Republicans needed to fill a $300 million hole in their budget, created through their plan to provide a long-term road and bridge improvement plan…the same plan that seeks to increase the state sales tax on gasoline and provide a means to toll any number of roads.

In that form, the bill passed out of the House.

Now the budget…and the cigarette tax increase…is in the state Senate. Already we are hearing that the increase is too much, and maybe we don’t need to increase the cigarette tax at all because it will hurt convenience stores and other retailers and place our state at risk of losing business to our neighboring states.

To that I say no.

The days of turning a blind eye to the health risks of smoking are long gone. We want to be seen as a state that places a premium on keeping people healthy. Smoking not only reinforces the image that public health is not a priority, but deters business investments, and damages the reputations of our communities as well.

Now is the time to stay strong for what we believe. I hope my fellow Hoosiers will continue to stand alongside me against the deadly marketing of tobacco products, and in favor of our state’s health.