Letter: Taxpayers are footing the bill for smokers

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Editor,

More than 200 cancer patients, survivors and caregivers from across Indiana gathered at the statehouse recently to urge the General Assembly to make cancer a priority on behalf of the 35,620 Hoosiers who will be diagnosed this year. I was one of the advocates that asked our lawmakers to increase the price of tobacco and improve funding for Indiana’s tobacco prevention and cessation program. I have lost several loved ones to lung cancer, so I know the devastation that tobacco use can cause.

Smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death in Indiana with more than 9,700 Hoosiers dying from their own smoking every year.  Smoking doubles the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, causes 20-30% of low birth weight babies and contributes to other health problems. Sadly, Indiana ranks 45th in infant mortality with 7.73 deaths per 1,000 live births which is 23% higher than the national average!

Indiana taxpayers foot the bill for $2.18 billion ($570 per household) in annual health care expenditures directly caused by tobacco use.  Indiana’s $0.995-per-pack cigarette tax has not been increased in eight years and ranks far below the national average of $1.54 per pack. This makes it cheaper and easier to smoke in Indiana, which has one of the highest smoking rates in the country. Increasing the tobacco prices by just $1.00 would keep more than 55,000 young Hoosiers from picking up a cigarette; help 40,000 current smokers quit the habit, SAVE 32,500 Hoosiers from premature smoking-caused death, SAVE $24 million in health care costs from smoking-affected pregnancies and births over the next five years as well as result in $2.08 billion in long-term healthcare savings!

More than 11,000 Hoosiers lose their lives to tobacco-related illnesses each year. Indiana’s Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Program has successfully reduced youth smoking and helped smokers quit across the state, but the program remains underfunded. Our state currently spends $5.8 million annually on tobacco prevention efforts, but that’s less than eight percent of the Centers for Disease Control’s recommended funding level. A $1.00 increase in the state cigarette (users) tax will provide $224 million in new revenue to fund these critical efforts.

I’m grateful to the legislators who listened to my fellow cancer advocates and me.  It is my hope the General Assembly will prioritize tobacco prevention and cessation this year and help make cancer history in Indiana and save the lives of our newborn Hoosiers, our teens and community.

Karla T. Stein

Carmel


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