By Abrahm Hurt
INDIANAPOLIS–More than one in five Indiana adults smoke cigarettes, one of the highest rates in the nation, while the number of youths using vaping products remains a concern for anti-smoking advocates.
The percent of high school students using e-cigarettes in 2016, the last year for which data is available, is double what it was in 2012—10.5%, but down from 15.1% in 2014, according to the Indiana Department of Health.
Despite the numbers, the Indiana General Assembly in the 2019 session took no action on measures aimed at reducing rates of tobacco use and vaping, including higher taxes and raising the smoking age from 18 to 21. Vaping products will be studied this summer by lawmakers.
With no immediate action in the Indiana House or Senate to raise the smoking age, Sen. Todd Young, R-Indiana, is moving at the national level. He has taken the first steps to join other lawmakers from across the country to push bipartisan legislation that would raise the legal age to buy tobacco products from age 18 to 21 on a federal level.
“Most of these are good kids that don’t understand how powerful these vaping or e-cigarette devices can be,” Young said in a press conference in South Bend in late May. “We need to protect them, and that’s what this T21 legislation does.”
During the 2019 legislative session, two bills aimed at preventing the younger population from tobacco use never made it to the governor’s desk.
Senate Bill 425, authored by Randy Head, R-Logansport, would have changed the legal age to purchase tobacco products and e-liquids from age 18 to 21. Advocates also urged lawmakers to raise the tobacco tax to keep young Hoosiers healthy, but it never got out of the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee.
The Indiana Chamber of Commerce’s Vision 2025 Report Card, which was released on Thursday, said it would like to see smoking levels in Indiana reduced to less than 15% of the population. According to the Chamber, smoking currently costs $6.2 billion in health care and lost productivity.
Department of Health Data show that Indiana’s adult smoking rate increased from 20.6% to 21.8% since 2015, while the Chamber notes that Indiana ranks 44th worst among the 50 states in the number of smokers. While the adult smoking rate in Indiana has risen every year since 2015, the U.S. median rate has dropped during the same time period.
Indiana is still collecting millions from the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA), which is a 1998 agreement made by attorney generals from 46 states and six United States territories with five of the largest cigarette manufacturers in the U.S. The companies agreed to pay the states roughly $206 billion over 25 years to settle claims regarding smoking-related health care costs and youth smoking.
Since 1998, Indiana has received approximately $2.7 billion from tobacco manufacturers.
Matthew Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, emphasized that Indiana hasn’t been using enough money received from the settlement to tackle the vaping and tobacco use epidemic.
“Indiana is severely underfunding tobacco prevention and cessation programs despite having one of the highest smoking rates in the country,” he said. “We urge Indiana leaders to spend more of their tobacco settlement money to prevent kids from using tobacco and help smokers quit. They also need to significantly increase tobacco taxes.”
In 2019, the Indiana State Department of Health’s Tobacco Prevention and Cessation program will receive $7.5 million from the master settlement. The program will also receive $7.5 million in each of fiscal in 2020 and 2021.
According to a 2018 annual report compiled by the Department of Health, approximately 3,700 Hoosier youth become new regular, daily smokers each year. An estimated 151,000 Indiana youth currently under the age of 18 will ultimately die prematurely from smoking.
Megan Wade-Taxter, media relations coordinator for the Department of Health, said they are addressing youth e-cigarette use as a part of the overall state tobacco control program.
She said the Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Commission has compiled free resources for schools, 80% of public school districts have updated their policies to include e-cigarettes and the ISDH conducted a school assembly speaker tour that reached 17 schools and more than 17,000 youth in 10 days.
Bryan Wells contributed to this report. He and Abrahm Hurt are reporters for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalists.