INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
A proposed $1 per-pack hike in Indiana’s cigarette tax appears likely to
fail for a second straight year, dismaying public health advocates who say a
tax increase would be among the most effective ways of lowering the state’s
high smoking rate and improving its dismal heath ranking.
legislation died after former Gov. Mike Pence and the GOP-controlled Senate
opposed it. This year, it’s new Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb and the Senate
opposing an increase pushed by House Republicans.
More than half of
U.S. states have increased their cigarette taxes in the past 10 years,
including other conservative states, according to the Campaign for Tobacco
Free Kids. But in Indiana, where more than 20 percent of adults say they
smoke, lawmakers haven’t touched the current 99-cent a pack tax since 2007.
“My feeling is, if
you don’t need a tax, don’t enact it,” Senate Appropriations Committee
Chairman Luke Kenley said.
That has frustrated
Tobacco Free Indiana - a coalition of business and health groups - and other
advocacy organizations that are pushing the idea.
“We’ve been putting
so much emphasis on our structural infrastructure,” said Monique French, the
group’s chairwoman. “We need to put the same amount of focus on our human
oppose the tax hike and suggest it would drive consumers to neighboring
states with lower prices.
But public health
officials say the reasons for raising the tax are two-fold. It would provide
a powerful incentive to quit or to never start, which would improve overall
health and reduce state spending on tobacco-related illnesses. It also could
provide additional revenue for health care and smoking cessation programs
that have had funding slashed over the past 15 years.
Sen. David Long
said Thursday that he doesn’t believe public health factors into the current
debate over cigarette taxes. He suggested the measure was pushed merely as a
way to backfill money currently spent on health that some lawmakers wanted
to divert to infrastructure projects, which is a major Republican priority
for the session.
“I know for
advocates it’s a health issue - that’s why they support it,” the Fort Wayne
Republican said. “But the reason we’re talking about it is it is a budgetary
issue - it’s a source of revenue.”
Indiana has the
12th highest smoking rate in the nation among states, according to the
United Health Foundation’s 2016 report. Seven of the 11 states with higher
smoking rates have increased their cigarette tax more recently than Indiana.
Even West Virginia’s similarly conservative Legislature raised its cigarette
tax rate by 65 cents last year, bringing the total tax per pack to $1.20.
The original bill
by Republican Rep. Cindy Kirchhofer contained a cigarette tax increase of
$1.50 per pack - and sailed through a House public health committee on a
11-0 vote - that would have brought in an estimated $406.9 million in fiscal
year 2018, rising to $435.5 million the following year.
When it was reduced
to a $1 increase, the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency projected
revenue would amount to $278.3 million, before rising to nearly $300
Still, Holcomb and
some Senate Republicans say they prefer to hold off on a cigarette tax
increase. They say they may need to resort to it in the future if
congressional Republicans make cuts to Medicaid funding currently available
through President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.
“If that saber
wasn’t being rattled in D.C., it would probably be an easier sell in the
Senate,” said House Speaker Brian Bosma, who backs the increase. “I’m not
the person that has to be convinced.”