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Copyright 1996 The Indianapolis Newspapers, Inc.
THE INDIANAPOLIS STAR
February 1, 1996 Thursday CITY FINAL EDITION
SECTION: EDITORIAL; Pg. A08; ANDREA NEAL
LENGTH: 668 words
HEADLINE: Low taxes, high death rate for smokers
BYLINE: ANDREA NEAL
Indiana has a new - and dubious - distinction. According to data released
last week by the Centers for Disease Control, our state ranks seventh
in the number of deaths linked to smoking.
At the same time, Indiana has the eighth lowest excise tax on cigarettes,
15.5 cents per pack compared to a national average of 32.7. Researchers
say that's no coincidence.
"There appears to be a definite correlation between the high prevalence
of smoking and ensuing deaths and those states with low excise taxes,"
says David R. Richards, chairman of the public affairs committee of the American Heart Association's Indiana chapter.
"If you look at the eight states with the lowest taxes on cigarettes,
you will see that all of them are grouped in the higher rates of deaths
related to smoking," he says. "Lower prices simply stimulate the purchase and consumption of cigarettes. "
The study raises important policy questions for Hoosier lawmakers, who
should quickly determine why Indiana is so accepting of smoking.
The financial implications are enormous since smoking-related death and
illness are linked to higher health care costs.
A favorable climate Especially
noteworthy is the fact that six of the seven states with lowest
cigarette taxes are major tobacco producers. That's no surprise. But it doesn't seem to explain Indiana's ranking.
Or maybe it does. Although most Hoosiers aren't aware of it, Indiana
is the eighth largest of 16 tobacco growing states. While our tobacco
production doesn't begin to rival that of Kentucky, it is nonetheless a significant cash crop for southern Indiana. In 1994, 7,100 acres
of tobacco were harvested here, representing 15 million pounds and
bringing in $ 29 million for growers.
In addition to having low taxes, Indiana has few restrictions on
cigarette purchases, compared with other states.
A possible explanation is the state's conservative political climate
and general distrust of government intervention in personal lives.
But it's equally clear that Hoosier lawmakers have received the same
tobacco industry lobbying that occurs in Southern states, although on a
Two years ago, the Indiana General Assembly considered, but rejected,
a proposal to raise cigarette excise taxes. At the time, opposition
was based almost entirely on the broader dislike of tax hikes.
As the CDC study shows, there are good policy reasons besides raising
revenue to raise the excise tax, foremost of which is to cut cigarette
consumption. The concern is paramount when it comes to young people, who are especially influenced by low taxes because they have less
cash to spend.
Nationwide, the CDC reported, about 30 percent of all high school
students smoke at least once a month. In Indiana, 32.6 percent
of high schoolers were reported to have smoked in the past month.
One bill in the legislature attempts to tackle the issue of underage
smoking by making it a Class C infraction, punishable by a $ 500 fine,
for a minor to possess cigarettes. Senate Bill 106 also allows random inspections of certain retailers that sell them. But it forbids the
use of minors in sting operations to test compliance with state law,
which prohibits sale of cigarettes to juveniles.
That language makes the provision almost worthless.
Clearly, the legislation is mild compared to some of the more radical
proposals being considered federally by the Food and Drug Administration,
but at least legislators are thinking about how to restrict children's access to cigarettes. Raising the excise tax would be more
According to the CDC, 27 percent of Hoosier adults smoke, the fourth
highest number in the country. Only Alaska, Kentucky and Nevada
have more. The distinction is nothing to be proud of. The question
is: What do we do about it?
Neal is an editorial writer for The Star.