INDIANAPOLIS — No one at the Statehouse doubts that hiking Indiana's cigarette tax by $2 per pack will reduce smoking rates, particularly among younger Hoosiers, and generate millions of dollars in new state revenue.
But there appears to be little appetite in either of the Republican-controlled chambers to impose higher taxes on the more than 1 in 5 Hoosiers who regularly light up.
House Bill 1565, which would have tripled Indiana's cigarette tax rate to $2.995 per pack, failed to advance in the House during the first half of the legislative session, and the tax hike was not included in House Bill 1001, the state's two-year budget — essentially ending consideration of the proposal for the year.
Similarly, a $1 per pack cigarette tax hike contained in House Bill 1551, sponsored by state Reps. Mike Aylesworth, R-Hebron, and Lisa Beck, D-Hebron, never received a vote in the House Public Health Committee.
Raise It for Health, a coalition of business and health groups advocating for a cigarette tax increase, said Indiana's smoking rates are a public health crisis that demands urgent action by lawmakers.
"A House budget that lacks a significant increase in the state's cigarette tax sends a clear message that health is not a priority," the group said. "Leadership in the Indiana Senate must act now to protect Hoosiers and save lives."
Senate President Rod Bray, R-Martinsville, said this week he's skeptical either proposal will be revived in the Senate during the second half of the annual legislation session that runs until April 29.
"I don't see it probably happening this year," Bray said. "Now, I'm not the only one who makes that decision. But I think it's probably a long shot."
Bray expects the General Assembly, at some point in the future, will enact a cigarette tax hike. He said the hang-up for now is the lack of a clear plan for how the money raised through the higher tax rate would be spent.
"That's going to be a difficult and a really, really important part of that conversation," Bray said.
Senate Democratic Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, said he doesn't understand the reluctance of his Republican colleagues to support a measure that would positively impact Hoosier health and the state's bottom line.
"In my opinion, it's a no-brainer," Lanane said. "That money could be used for cigarette smoking prevention, it could be used to maybe help fund an increase in pay for teachers. To me, there's no reason for not moving forward."
Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb also said this week that he doesn't oppose a cigarette tax hike.
However, the governor admitted that couldn't find much support for the idea among rank-and-file lawmakers during his regular meetings with them in the first two months of the legislative session.
"There was next to nil appetite for one, so I never pursued it," Holcomb said.
A separate proposal to raise the state's minimum smoking age to 21 was approved by the Senate Public Health Committee, led by state Sen. Ed Charbonneau, R-Valparaiso.
However, Senate Bill 425 died in the Senate Committee on Tax and Fiscal Policy, despite Bray describing the plan as a "legitimate idea" because it would prevent more teens and young adults from acquiring a smoking habit.
The only smoking-related legislation still moving at the Statehouse is House Bill 1444, imposing a new tax of 4 cents per milliliter on e-cigarette materials containing nicotine as a way to reduce what several lawmakers described as a youth vaping "epidemic."
Bray said he anticipates senators will "certainly have a good conversation" about that proposal, which narrowly passed the House, 53-40.