Hoosiers hate taxes, but it’s hard to find a Hoosier leader who opposes the idea of doubling our tax on cigarettes.
Now, Indiana can point to two good reasons to raise the tax. Not only would a higher tax discourage smoking, it could help pay for better roads.
Support for a higher tax on cigarettes has come surprisingly from the anti-tax Indiana Farm Bureau and Indiana Chamber of Commerce, as well as predictably from medical experts.
The chamber made the case for a raising the cigarette tax last month, when it released its priorities for the 2017 session of the state Legislature.
Indiana ranks 44th in the nation for its percentage of smokers — in other words, the seventh-worst state — the chamber pointed out.
Sources report Indiana’s smoking rate at just under 25 percent.
It’s not just a coincidence that we rank as only the 36th-highest cigarette tax with 99.5 cents per pack.
From the chamber’s viewpoint, a high rate of smokers rate is bad for Indiana employers, who it represents.
“These workers are less healthy, have higher insurance premiums and miss more days on the job — and some are not able to work at all,” said Indiana Chamber President and CEO Kevin Brinegar.
He added that for every 99.5 cents tax Indiana collects on a pack of cigarettes, Indiana’s Medicaid system spends nearly $16 on health-care costs for smokers.
Last winter, when the Legislature was considering a boost in the cigarette tax to $2 per pack, four former state health commissioners endorsed the idea.
The health experts laid out a long list of horrors brought on by smoking: 11,000 Hoosier deaths per year; a dangerous smoking rate of 16 percent among pregnant women; thousands of minors becoming addicted to smoking every year.
Studies prove that higher taxes reduce smoking, especially among young people, the experts said.
Legislators had another motive for considering a higher cigarette tax. It would have helped them move money around so they could spend more on roads.
Health benefits alone should be enough reason to raise the cigarette tax, but if it takes a desire for better roads to inspire action, let’s hear it for the highways.
Last year, conservative local Sen. Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, said he would support an increase in cigarette taxes if it could lead to more highway spending.
“I have voted for ‘sin tax’ increases in the past. That doesn’t bother me,” Kruse said.
But Gov. Mike Pence opposed higher cigarette taxes. He pushed through a short-term highway funding plan that did not raise any taxes.
Now, incoming Gov. Eric Holcomb has said he would not rule out an increase in the tax on tobacco.
In the past, Indiana may have profited from cigarettes sale to smokers in neighboring states, where tobacco taxes are higher.
Illinois charges $1.98 per pack. Michigan collects $2. Ohio is at $1.60. Of our neighbors, only Kentucky is lower at 60 cents. (Kentucky also has the nation’s highest smoking rate at 30 percent.)
A tax rate of $2 is not likely to send more Hoosiers out of state to buy their smokes. Plus, luring smokers from other states is a shabby way of making money for Indiana.
Our state legislators have two good reasons to raise the cigarette tax in 2017. It’s time to take action to snuff out Indiana’s unfortunately high smoking rate.