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EDITORIAL: Indiana Chamber of Commerce smoking bill is a mixed bag



Indiana Smoking

In the 2018 legislation agenda, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce has included a four-part proposal to combat smoking in Indiana. 

The proposal contains a slew of traditional anti-smoking policy, some of which will drastically change the lives of smokers in Indiana. While some policies, such as raising the legal age to buy tobacco to 21, have had positive public health effects nationally, other aspects of the proposal such as repealing the Smoker’s Bill of Rights, a law which states that employers cannot refuse to hire smokers, appear explicitly anti-working class. 

Reducing smoking should be a goal of any smart approach to public health and poverty reduction, yet openly punishing smokers who belong to the working poor undermines any such effort. 

One of the legislative plan’s major pushes would be to change the legal age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21. A concurrent trend to make tobacco liable to the same age restrictions as alcohol is occurring across the country, from San Antonio to Oregon and Topeka, Kansas

Such an overhaul would likely anger the many smokers at IU between the ages of 18 and 21, not to mention the local businesses that rely on the tobacco purchases of college students. Mike Fisher, owner of The Briar & The Burley tobacco store in downtown Bloomington, estimates that about a quarter of his sales come from students under 21. 

One could argue that 18-year-olds are legal adults and can make their own decisions or that kids will get their hands on cigarettes one way or another. Both these compelling arguments are made for lowering the drinking age, and alcohol, after all, is comparable to tobacco use in danger posed to the body. 

Yet scientists view raising the minimum tobacco age more favorably. Some estimate that raising the age could result in 50,000 fewer tobacco-related deaths per year and a 12 percent decline in smoking rates. Smoking rates in Indiana could benefit from such a change. The state’s smoking rate is at 21.2 percent, six points higher than the national average, with smoking among Indiana high schoolers at 11 percent. 

However, another part of the Chamber of Commerce’s plan is to repeal the state's Smoker’s Bill of Rights. 

If repealed, businesses in Indiana would reserve the right to not hire someone who smokes. Such policy is an attack on the ability for those working for hourly wages to take a smoke break. 

Another proposal by the Chamber, raising the cigarette tax, would disproportionately affect those with less of an ability to pay for cigarettes. These overt anti-worker policies should make anyone suspicious of the Chamber’s motivations on this issue. 

It cannot be forgotten that as smoking is reduced in the United States, its disastrous public health repercussions are felt elsewhere. Cigarette companies have not vanished, and they have found more susceptible foreign markets. 

About 40 percent of men in low and middle-income countries smoke. Other projections by the World Health Organization state that currently six million people die globally from smoking each year, and if this trend continues, eight million will die annually by 2030. 

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