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Health Coalition to Resume Push for Cigarette Tax Hike, With Local Reinforcements

Six-month series of town halls on Hoosier health aims to mobilize grassroots

(INDIANAPOLIS) - Bills to raise the cigarette tax and raise the legal age have stalled in the Indiana House two years in a row. Hospitals and business groups are hoping a change in tactics will make the third time the charm.

The Alliance for a Healthier Indiana will discuss Indiana's dismal health rankings at town meetings in 17 cities over the next six months, from Gary to Sellersburg. Community Health CEO Bryan Mills says while those rankings, in areas from obesity to infant mortality, can be addressed in a variety of ways, smoking is at the root of most of them, and there's clear evidence that raising the price and the age are effective in reducing the smoking rate.

The coalition held its first town hall Friday in Indianapolis. It hopes to mobilize allies at the local level, from local Chambers of Commerce to community organizations, to get informed and active on what Mills says is a health crisis.

About one in five Hoosiers smokes, the 10th-highest rate in the nation. 

House Republicans approved a tax hike in conjunction with road funding proposals in 2015 and 2016, but the proposal never went anywhere in the Senate. This year, the first session since the formation of the coalition, a bill to raise the smoking age to 21 earned unanimous approval in a House committee, but House Speaker Brian Bosma ruled the potential fiscal impact of the bill required a second review by the Ways and Means Committee. With a hearing deadline already past, that effectively killed the bill for the year.

The Indiana Chamber has joined in pressing for both changes. President Kevin Brinegar says Indiana businesses' health costs are among the highest in the nation. He says the savings from having fewer smokers would free up millions of dollars for companies to invest instead in their operations and employees.

Mills says the alliance will decide its final legislative agenda later this year, but says the tax and the smoking age will be included.the smoking age will be included.

Community Health CEO and Alliance for a Healthier Indiana chairman Bryan Mills (Photo: Eric Berman/WIBC)

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