Nothing comes easy in Indiana, even if it’s clearly in the best interests of the health and welfare of the public.
Still, we’re glad to see influential people and organizations willing to keep trying, despite long odds of success.
Last week, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce unveiled its 2018 legislative agenda with support of a proposal to reduce the state’s horrid smoking rate. To achieve that goal, the state Chamber advocates increasing the smoking age from 18 to 21 and repealing special provisions for smokers so employers have the option to screen potential hires for tobacco use.
There are good reasons for the Chamber to take an aggressive stance on such an issue. As an organization that lobbies on behalf of its members in the business community, it is keenly aware of Indiana’s tobacco problem. Smoking causes an estimated $3 billion in annual health care costs in the state, which had the 12th-highest smoking rate in the nation among states in 2016. During that same year, according to a United Health Foundation report, Indiana’s 20.6 percent smoking rate topped the national rate of 17.5 percent.
Raising the age at which people can buy tobacco products isn’t a magic solution. In Terre Haute, it would simply mean a quick trip across the Illinois line to obtain cigarettes or other items legally. But there’s little doubt it would have impact on smoking rates. The longer you can keep young people from taking up smoking, the better chance they never will. And with less money being devoted to smoking cessation programs in recent years, other avenues are needed to help reduce smoking rates.
The General Assembly convenes in early January for its short session, which will last through the end of February before closing down to allow members to go back home and launch their campaigns for re-election. That won’t give much time for sympathetic legislators to push the smoking age bill through the process. There also appears to be widespread resistance. Even Speaker of the House Brian Bosma is wary of the proposal and expects stiff opposition.
“I have a bit of difficulty telling somebody that they can go to Iraq and fight for freedom but they can’t buy a pack of cigarettes,” Bosma told members of the press corps in response to the Chamber’s proposal.
Bosma conceded that was the same point made when drinking ages were debated and changed in some states in decades past. But wisdom prevailed in those cases, and the public health and safety concerns associated with drinking finally won out, and every state now has a legal drinking age of 21.
Three states — California, Hawaii and New Jersey — have already raised the smoking age to 21. While chances of the provision actually passing the next legislature are slim, leaders indicate they think it’s worthy of discussion. That’s a good place to start.
The Indiana Chamber of Commerce is an influential group in the state. Its proposals — even controversial ones such as raising the smoking age — always get attention and spark discussion. We applaud the Chamber for making smoking issues a key part of the 2018 agenda. It is putting forth good ideas worthy of consideration and adoption. It may take a while for some of its ideas to gain acceptance, but keeping up the pressure is a positive action.