INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -
Legislative leaders are leery of a proposal backed by the Indiana Chamber of
Commerce to raise the state’s legal age for buying cigarettes from 18 to 21.
business group announced a lobbying agenda Monday for the legislative
session that starts in early January, saying Indiana needs to reduce its
smoking rate that causes an estimated $3 billion in annual heath care costs
in the state. The chamber also is calling on the Republican-dominated
Legislature to repeal a state law that prohibits businesses from refusing to
hire tobacco users.
Speaker Brian Bosma said he expected many libertarian-leaning GOP House
member would have trouble taking those steps.
“I have a bit of
difficulty telling somebody that they can go to Iraq and fight for freedom
but they can’t buy a pack of cigarettes,” Bosma said. “I get that we do
something different with alcohol in that regard.”
Proposals for a
$1-per-pack increase in Indiana’s current 99-cent cigarette tax have cleared
the House the past two years but failed to win approval in the Senate. Such
a tax hike is unlikely to be debated next year as lawmakers aren’t expected
to consider major budget issues.
opposed the tax hike, arguing it would drive consumers to neighboring states
with lower prices.
But public health
advocates said it would have provided a powerful disincentive to quit or to
never start smoking and result in additional revenue for health care and
smoking cessation programs that have had funding slashed over the past 15
Indiana has the
12th highest smoking rate in the nation among states, according to the
United Health Foundation’s 2016 report. Indiana’s 20.6 percent smoking rate
topped the national rate of 17.5 percent.
Three states -
California, Hawaii and New Jersey - now require anyone buying cigarettes to
be 21, while similar laws take effect next year in Oregon and Maine. Indiana
is among 19 states that prohibit local governments from setting higher ages
for tobacco use, according to the Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation.
majority leader Brandt Hershman said he believed raising Indiana’s tobacco
age was a worthy discussion topic given the state’s cigarette troubles, but
didn’t know whether state government should go that far.
“People know they
are doing something that they shouldn’t,” Hershman said of smokers. “I just
look at government intrusion with a little bit of a cautious eye.”