By Erica Irish
INDIANAPOLIS — Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, has been fighting to reduce Indiana’s high smoking rate for nearly 20 years.
On Monday, the soon-to-be retired lawmaker got a little closer to his goal. The House Public Health Committee unanimously approved House Bill 1380, Brown’s newest strategy to reduce smoking rates by raising the age to light up.
Brown compromised to protect the bill, however.
At the top of the hearing, Rep. Cindy Kirchhofer, R-Beech Grove, amended HB 1380 to remove a $2 tax increase for each pack of cigarettes sold.
“I would prefer to leave the tax in because that would be another gigantic step towards us minimizing the number of young people that would be using tobacco products,” Brown said after the hearing.
Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, questions opponents to his bill to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21. Brown’s bill was heard at a House Public Health Committee Monday. Photo by Erica Irish, TheStatehouseFile.com.
Revenue collected from the tax increase would have contributed to the Indiana tobacco use prevention and cessation trust fund to help those addicted or at risk of addiction stop using tobacco products.
While the tax was removed in HB 1380, another advocate should bring it forward in a future session, Brown said.
Bryan Hannon, chair of Tobacco Free Indiana and Raise It for Health, said a tax increase is necessary now to save more of the 11,000 citizens who die from tobacco use each year.
“Policymakers must get engaged in the fight against tobacco if we’re going to successfully drive down smoking rates in Indiana, and an increase of at least $1.50 in the cigarette tax is the surest way to do it,” Hannon said in a statement released by the Alliance for a Healthier Indiana.
In its current form, HB 1380 would still raise the legal age to purchase cigarettes and other tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, from 18 to 21.
Five other states have raised the legal age to 21, including California, New Jersey, Oregon, Hawaii and Maine.
Minors who would be directly affected by the age increase if put into effect July 1, testified in support of Brown’s proposals.
Sydney Clifford, a sophomore at Westfield High School, said young people start smoking before they are 18 by purchasing e-cigarettes from upperclassmen.
Sydney Clifford, a sophomore at Westfield High School, testifies at a House Public Health Committee hearing Monday. Clifford rose in support of a bill to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21. Photo by Erica Irish, TheStatehouseFile.com.
“Teens shouldn’t be getting their hands on this, but as seen in recent years, they have,” Clifford said.
Clifford told the committee her high school has gone as far as to install nicotine detectors in bathrooms to catch students smoking and vaping in between classes.
The student also noted that her peers believe that vaping is safer or less addictive than smoking traditional cigarettes, even though nicotine found in vaping products can cause issues like attention deficit disorders.
“A lot of the time, they don’t even know what they are putting into their bodies,” Clifford said. “These are things that are known, but haven’t been communicated as effectively to teens as cigarettes have been.”
Amy Lane, president of the Indiana Smoke Free Alliance, urged the committee to consider chemical differences between e-cigarettes and traditional cigarettes before including e-liquid products in the age increase.
Lane said e-cigarettes can serve as a safer alternative to smoking tobacco.
“Products such as electronic cigarettes, vaporizers and e-liquids have potential benefits, with the goal of reducing death from tobacco-related diseases,” Lane said.
Rep. Ron Bacon, R-Chandler, questioned representatives who supported e-cigarettes, a new product with few substantial studies, Bacon said.
“We know what nicotine will do. We do not know what vaping the other ingredients we are putting in e-cigarettes and e-liquids will do to lung tissue,” Bacon said.
Joe Lackey, president of the Indiana Grocery and Convenience Store Association, was more concerned about the age increase’s impact on other rights extended to 18-year-old citizens, such as the personal choice to vote or buy lottery tickets. His members could also lose business, he added.
Ultimately, there is more work to be done in decreasing Indiana’s smoker population, Brown said.
“We have taken steps, but not the kind of steps that I would have preferred us taking in terms of making Indiana totally smoke free,” Brown said.
Erica Irish is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.