During his 2018 State of the State address, Governor Eric Holcomb delivered a simple truth: “A healthy Indiana depends first and foremost on the health of our people. The speech was a signal that public health was on the agenda, not on the back burner.
More than four years after the governor’s call to action, the themes remain unchanged as state health rankings slip even further behind the national average.
The governor has again pushed to put health first by creating a public health commission, and business leaders like Dave Ricks, chairman and CEO of Eli Lilly and Co., have publicly called for more Emergency for Indiana Health Issues.
From Indiana’s business leaders to its state leaders, there is a shared interest — and responsibility — to act in the interests of Hoosier’s health. We cannot advance this goal without implementing policy solutions that have been proven and have broad public support. Many policies can tick these boxes, but few enjoy greater public support – or are more desperately needed – than evidence-based tobacco control policies. On top of that, reducing tobacco use has broad support from Hoosiers.
Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in our state, killing more than 11,000 Hoosiers each year. Our high smoking rates are the root of many chronic diseases that hamper our workforce, reduce productivity and diminish quality of life.
A public opinion poll conducted by the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) this spring found that two-thirds of Hoosier voters believed tobacco use had a major impact on health and 64% favored to a $2 per pack cigarette tax increase.
Indiana lawmakers are slowly coming to terms with the idea that more needs to be done to address health. Legislative leaders have promised solutions to rising health care costs — an important step in the right direction as the state’s high health care costs are pressured by its poor health. A sensible solution to reducing health care costs with a significant and measurable track record of success is to raise taxes on all tobacco products and invest in programs to prevent children from starting to smoke and help those who are already addicts to quit.
Therefore, ACS CAN, along with a broad coalition of health and business groups, encourage lawmakers to seriously consider increasing the $2 per pack tax on cigarettes with a parallel tax on all other tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, in the next legislative session. Projections show that a cigarette tax increase of $2 a pack would help more than 50,000 Hoosier adults quit smoking and save another 24,500 children from starting a deadly addiction. It would also generate more than $370 million in new annual revenue that could be reinvested in lagging public health infrastructure while saving the state $1.57 billion in long-term health care costs. . A parallel tax on other tobacco products, including electronic cigarettes, would produce additional health and economic benefits.
Hoosiers deserve action. As state leaders consider strategies to address Indiana’s many health challenges in the coming year, they should know that a significant cigarette tax increase is a proven strategy to improve health, save lives and reduce health care costs. For these reasons, it’s hard to see how a comprehensive public health proposal could rule out a policy that would tackle the state’s number one preventable cause of death and unlock new revenue for other health priorities.
That way, a significant cigarette tax increase in the next legislative session, or lack thereof, may be the best way to know whether public health is truly a priority or whether policymakers will let it boil on the back burner.