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The Journal Gazette

Thursday, March 14, 2019 1:00 am

Editorial

Smoke rings

Can Illinois' attitude on cigarettes drift east?

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Surely it can't be true that Illinois legislators care more about young people's health than Indiana legislators.

Yet, by a bipartisan,82-31 vote, the Illinois House just passed a bill to raise the legal age for purchasing cigarettes and vaping products. The bill is similar to one passed by both houses last year but vetoed by Gov. Bruce Rauner, who said he thought the bill would encourage younger-than-21 smokers to buy unlicensed cigarettes on the streets or cross the border and buy them in places such as Indiana. An attempt to override Rauner's veto passed the Senate but died in the House in November.

 Illinois' new governor, J.B. Pritzker, has been sending strong signals that he would sign the bill if it were passed by the Senate.

Meanwhile, halfway through Indiana's legislative session, the drive to raise the tax and legal age for cigarette and vaping purchases has gone almost nowhere, despite an unprecedented year-long campaign by the business and medical communities.

It's too late for a bill on either proposal to move through the normal committee process. Anti-tobacco activists are being told the House is more amenable to the proposals, Nancy Cripe, executive director of Tobacco Free Allen County, said Wednesday. “Now the big thrust is trying to persuade the Senate,” which still could add a cigarette tax hike to its budget bill, she said.

Polls show a majority of Hoosiers favor both a sizable tax increase on cigarettes – the Raise it For Health campaign has proposed $2 more per pack – and raising the purchase age for nicotine products. Combined with a stepped-up anti-smoking informational campaign, those measures could save lives and reduce public and private health care costs.

But public sentiment and sensible policy arguments don't always move our legislators to action. Is it lobbying by the tobacco and vaping companies? Is it knee-jerk anti-tax sentiment? Wrongheaded sentiment, ably refuted by veterans' groups, about the moral imperative of letting our youngest soldiers buy smokes? Willful ignorance about the price we all pay for nicotine addiction?

Whatever you want to call it, Indiana's reluctance to help curb cigarettes and vaping can't be dismissed as just inertia.

While other states are doing what they can to snuff the cigarette habit,  Indiana puffs away in a swift race to the bottom.

By the percentage of the state's population hooked on smoking, Cripe said, “we're well on the road to 50th. ... We were 39th (worst) in 2016. We were 41st in 2017, and 44th in 2018.”

Wait till next year, as they used to say in Illinois about the Cubs. But every year Indiana waits wastes lives and drains money from our overstressed health care system.