Thursday, January 12, 2006

Increasing Cigarette Tax Would Help Curb Smoking

No matter what you do, kids and teenagers are still going to smoke cigarettes. But there are things we could do that would result in a drastic decrease in the number of underage smokers.

Gov. Mitch Daniels, in his State of the State Address last week, proposed one method for reducing the number of teen smokers. He wants to increase the tax on a pack of cigarettes by a quarter a pack.

That not only would make it far more difficult, financially, for young people to afford to smoke, it would also make it more likely that more adult smokers would quit. That’s a great side benefit.

Of course, pushing any kind of tax increase through the General Assembly in an election year will be a tough sell. Although many Republicans have already given the governor’s proposal tentative support, most Democrats are taking a wait-and-see attitude.

Indiana remains one of the smokiest states in the nation as measured by the percentage of adults who regularly light up. It’s in the top five.

But the trend is to stamp out smoking in public buildings. Last year, Indianapolis passed an ordinance to ban smoking in most public buildings, including restaurants. Exceptions are made for bowling alleys, bars, and restaurants that do not permit children under age 18 to enter.

Several other counties and municipalities in Central Indiana followed suite. But smaller towns, like Edinburgh, have been more reluctant to adopt smoking restrictions.

It’s no secret that most adults who smoke wished they didn’t. Tobacco is a very addictive drug, a fact that most kids claim they know, but take little heed of.

Teens, unfortunately, tend to do only what makes them look good or feel good. They are more concerned with pleasing their peers than with long-term health consequences.

Increasing the price of a pack of cigarettes won’t stop all kids from smoking. But, as the governor pointed out, studies show that the most effective way of reducing teen smoking is to make it unaffordable. Increasing the tax on cigarettes will do just that.

If the cigarette tax goes into effect, it will result in a revenue stream of $115 million a year. What will that money be used for?

The governor doesn’t know yet. He said it could be used for a number of different things. The real goal of the tax increase is to improve public health, according to Daniels.

But with that money coming in, assuming the tax is eventually passed, I can think of no better use of it than to put it toward education programs, especially those that help deter substance abuse and smoking.

Many smokers are looking for a good excuse to try once more to quit. And no good parent wants his or her kid to start smoking. Increasing the cigarette tax, and banning smoking in all public buildings, including restaurants, are giant steps in the right direction to helping Indiana drop off the list of top 10 smoking states.

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