Coalition lobbies for tax increase on cigarettes

INDIANAPOLIS — A local woman is lobbying lawmakers to increase the state’s cigarette tax, charged when Hoosiers purchase a pack, in an effort to curb smoking.

Brandee Bastin, Hancock Regional Hospital tobacco initiatives coordinator, serves on the Tobacco Free Indiana coalition, which is pushing a campaign to increase Indiana’s cigarette tax by $1.50, from 99.5 cents to $2.49 per pack.

The coalition, which comprises healthcare, business, not-for-profit and education leaders from across the state, works to help smokers quit and prevent teens from ever picking up the habit.

The Indiana General Assembly reconvenes in early January, when lawmakers are expected to decide whether they support the increase proposed by the Raise it for Health campaign.

Indiana’s current cigarette tax is the lowest of nearby states, Bastin said. Illinois, for example, charges $1.98 per pack; Ohio’s tax is $1.60, and Michigan charges $2.

A higher tax would encourage some to kick the habit and ultimately save lives, Bastin said.

A $1.50 hike would generate roughly $300 million each year for the state, the group estimates, and members hope some of that funding is funneled into tobacco cessation programs.

Years ago, the Indiana General Assembly spent about $35 million every year funding various cessation programs; in recent years, the funding has been slashed to about $5 million, according to a news release from the Raise it for Health campaign.

The $5 million helps fund cessation programs in 36 of Indiana’s 92 counties. More funding would enable more programs to start, Bastin said.

“We feel like it’s a win-win situation all the way around,” she said.

Sen. Mike Crider, R-Greenfield, said he hasn’t yet had a chance to delve into all the details of the group’s campaign but is interested to learn more.

At first glace, a bill to increase the tax is legislation he’d likely support, he said.

Indiana’s comparatively low tax encourages Illinois and Ohio residents to cross state boarders to purchase cigarettes in Indiana, where they’re cheaper, Crider said.

Hiking the tax would make Indiana’s tax comparable with surrounding states, he said.

Crider also works at Hancock Regional Hospital, and he sees the effect smoking has on a person’s health. If increasing the tax will discourage teens from ever lighting up, it’s move he favors, he said.

“That’s an added benefit,” he said.

Crider said an increase would also create additional funding that could be funneled into other health programs, including The Healthy Indiana Plan 2.0, which provides health insurance to low-income Hoosiers who don’t qualify for Medicaid.

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.