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Sunday, May 16, 2021

Opinions hazy on proposed cigarette tax

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A group of local health care professionals and community leaders believe increasing the tax on cigarette sales would create a healthier Indiana by deterring potential tobacco users from smoking. They have collaborated to form the Raise it for Health Campaign to increase awareness of the ways in which a cigarette tax increase could reduce health disparities in Indiana. Though a proposed Indiana state budget that recently passed the House supports raising the cigarette tax by $1, Raise it for Health hopes to bump the tax by $1.50.

Danielle Patterson, government relations director with the American Heart Association and supporter of the Raise it for Health campaign, says smoking rates in Indiana are higher than in the rest of the country, and many advertisements are targeted toward the city’s most vulnerable residents — youth and minorities.

“As minorities we need to be part of the process, because tobacco companies specifically target us and our youth,” said Patterson. “The tobacco tax can be beneficial in reducing tobacco use, especially among minorities. That’s the biggest thing. That and making sure there are education, prevention and cessation programs for people who want to quit. It’s impossible for us to address tobacco use across the state when we have people who live in counties where they don’t know where to go for cessation services, and some local hospitals don’t offer it.”

Raise it for Health says increasing the cigarette tax by $1.50 would help Indiana gain roughly $300 million in state revenue annually and help restore tobacco prevention funding. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends state spending of $11.24 per capita for tobacco prevention and cessation programs. According to Raise it for Health, Indiana currently spends $0.77. Research by the CDC on cigarette consumption suggests that youth and young adults are more likely to respond to increases in price than adults, because young people have less money to spend overall.

To tobacco users and business owners, the line between promoting health and penalizing the poor has become a bit hazy. People question why e-cigarettes, vapes, cigars and cigarillos would not be affected by the tax. In addition, many local tobacco and convenience store owners have opposed the increase, arguing that the tax would hurt business and that a tax specifically targeting smokers is discriminatory. 

Pommy Cohli, the owner or Head Lines Smokes in Broad Ripple, is against the tax increase.

“The tobacco tax is discriminatory toward smokers. Why should smokers fund something that everybody else is going to benefit from? If you want to tax, raise the sales tax, so that everybody pulls in and not just the smokers,” Cohli said. “They also wanted to raise the age (to buy tobacco products) from 18 to 21; that’s not going to benefit anyone. I can point out several people under the age of 21 with access to beer. If they want something, they find ways to get it.”

Tiffany Nichols, tobacco program coordinator with the Minority Health Coalition of Marion County, disagrees.

“It’s not discriminatory toward smokers. Do they consider the higher premiums that non-smokers have to pay because of smokers discriminatory toward us?” asked Nichols. “It’s a user tax, so it ensures that people who don’t use the product will not be discriminated against. We are only advocating to raise the tax because we know it’s one of the single most impactful measures we have to reduce tobacco use. It deters youth from ever starting because of the price,” said Nichols.

For more information on the Raise it for Health Campaign, visit raiseitforhealthin.com.

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