INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
Renewed attempts in Indiana to increase the taxes paid by cigarette smokers
and legalize at least some marijuana use face cloudy futures with state
and business leaders are pushing to triple the state’s cigarette tax to
nearly $3 a pack, arguing the hike would reduce Indiana’s high smoking rate
and discourage youths from starting to smoke. Proposals for similar
increases have failed in recent years and Republican legislative leaders say
they don’t sense much appetite for it during this year’s legislative
Bills are pending
to allow medical or recreational marijuana use in Indiana. But it doesn’t
seem the GOP-dominated Legislature will challenge Republican Gov. Eric
Holcomb’s opposition even as neighboring Michigan, Illinois and Ohio have
taken legalization steps.
Here’s a look at
some of the issues involved:
CIGARETTE TAX PUSH
The drive for
adding $2 to the state’s 99.5 cents per-pack cigarette tax has the backing
of the influential Indiana Chamber of Commerce, which sees it as a way of
cutting health care costs. Federal figures show Indiana’s nearly 22 percent
smoking rate among adults is the seventh highest in the country.
tax hasn’t been raised since 2007 and is the country’s 38th highest, falling
below all neighboring states. The Indiana House backed a $1 per-pack
increase as recently as 2016 and 2017, only to see the move fail as the
state Senate, then-Gov. Mike Pence and Holcomb all opposed it.
A $2 cigarette tax
increase could add $500 million a year to state revenue, according to an
analysis of the bill by the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency. Tax
hike advocates maintain it is a step needed to make Indiana a healthier
“We know it drives
down smoking rates, we know it keeps kids away from tobacco, and we know it
raises significant new revenue that we can dedicate to other urgent public
health programs like addiction and infant mortality,” said Bryan Hannon,
chairman of the Raise It For Health Coalition.
Travis Holdman of Markle, chairman of the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy
Committee, said he hasn’t sensed any change in the opposition among
GOP Rep. Cindy
Kirchhofer of Beech Grove, who is sponsoring the tax-hike bill, said she
isn’t sure the House Public Health Committee that she leads will act on it
“We’ve gone on
record voting for that a couple times now, so just going to hold off and see
what direction we get from the Senate as well,” she said.
VAPING TAX VIABLE
A separate proposal
would add a new state tax for the liquid solutions used in e-cigarettes for
House Ways and
Means Committee Chairman Tim Brown of Crawfordsville, a retired physician
who’s sponsoring the proposal, said he believed those liquids should be
treated similar to cigarettes because both contain nicotine.
A state report
estimates about 300,000 Indiana adults, or 6 percent of the population, use
e-cigarettes at least occasionally and projects the tax on vaping liquid
could raise at least $4 million a year.
Speaker Brian Bosma said he believed the e-cigarette tax had the best
prospects of winning approval this year.
Several bills aimed
at legalizing small amounts of marijuana or permitting medical marijuana use
have been filed by lawmakers ranging from liberal Democratic Sen. Karen
Tallian of Portage to libertarian-leaning Republican Rep. Jim Lucas of
Both have been
outspoken legalization advocates for several years, but Holcomb, Republican
legislative leaders and major business groups remain firm against such
steps. Holcomb says he’ll remain opposed as long as the federal government
classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, which means it’s
not accepted for medical use and has a high potential for abuse.
That’s even though
Michigan voters in November approved a ballot initiative legalizing
marijuana for recreational use and Illinois’ new governor backs recreational
marijuana. Both states already allow medical marijuana and Ohio’s first
medical marijuana sales began Wednesday. About two-thirds of states have
legalized some form of medical marijuana.
Holcomb’s opposition is a “huge obstacle,” but points to the backing of
military veterans groups for medical marijuana as a sign of growing public
“Even if we don’t
do anything, we’re going to be forced to deal with literally thousands of
Hoosiers that every intellectually honest person knows are going to go to
Michigan or Illinois and buy this,” he said.
Sen. Ed Charbonneau
of Valparaiso, chairman of Senate health committee, said he’s uncomfortable
with looking at allowing marijuana use while it remains illegal under
federal law. He said the prospects of a marijuana legalization bill clearing
the General Assembly are thin.
“I would say there
are still a significant number of minds that would need to be changed before
that could happen,” Charbonneau said.