Graphic by Steve Garbacz
Graphic by Steve Garbacz
Dear Indiana Senate Pro Tem Rodric Bray (R-Martinsville) and Senate Republicans:

Way to prove once again your total ineptitude on cigarette taxes.

Indiana lawmakers are putting the finishing touches on a two-year budget and, as part of that ongoing negotiations, have stripped out a 50-cent-per-pack cigarette tax increase.

Two weeks ago as I was writing my annual dead mom column, recounting the six years since she died at age 57 of lung cancer due to a lifetime of smoking, I called the 50-cent increase a “half-butt” effort (only because I figured I wouldn’t be allowed to use a three-letter word that more strongly epitomized my frustration and disdain for the yearly impotence out of our legislators).

The Indiana Chamber of Commerce and others had been advocating for a $1 per pack increase in the cigarette tax... five years ago. It’s been so long and inflation has taken root that lately the Chamber has been pushing for a $2 per pack increase more recently.

And year after year after year, Indiana Republicans — I place all the blame squarely on one party here because that one party has supermajority control of both chambers and can therefore dictate policy on its own — have failed to pass anything, leaving Indiana’s cigarette taxes at a pitiful 99.5 cents per pack.

That’s the 13th lowest in the nation.

Unsurprisingly, Indiana continues to have one of the HIGHEST smoking rates in the nation.

There’s a strong and proven correlation between higher cigarette taxes and lower smoking rates.

Wait, hold on, maybe using words like “correlation” are too complicated for our feeble-minded legislators. So let me dumb it down to a first-grade level:

When cigarette taxes get bigger, like going from $1 to $2 — two is bigger than one — fewer people decide to smoke cigarettes. Now remember, boys and girls, cigarettes are bad. They contain bad stuff that makes your lungs sick, permanently, and will eventually make you die. Dying is bad.

Now repeat after me: Cigarettes bad. Dying bad. Bigger tax, smaller smoking.

House Republicans get partial credit for at least trying to get a 50-cent increase through — though let’s be honest, as I said before, that’s a half-butt effort in itself — but at least it’s something.

Senate Republicans, on the other hand, have proven once again that they’re willing and capable of doing absolutely nothing.

Perhaps they like to see Indiana get reamed every year in health rankings that show the state’s overall health is as bad as many of the Deep South states that are perennially miserable at everything. I suppose that would make sense as Indiana tries its best to be the middle finger of the South sticking up to tell progress and common sense to screw itself.

Perhaps Senate Republicans like the added health costs associated with the numerous chronic conditions and illnesses that smoking can cause or exacerbate including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and, of course, cancer. Considering that Indiana foots a Medicaid bill and there’s a strong correlation — wait, sorry for using a big word again here — that the facts are low-income people are covered by Medicaid and lower-income people smoke at higher rates that wealthier people, so maybe Indiana likes burning money on a preventable problem.

Or, and perhaps the most likely, maybe Senate Republicans simply don’t give a rip, probably because they view the status of being anti-tax so groups like Americans For Prosperity don’t scold them for hiking a tax more than they care about whether Hoosiers actually pick up a filthy, destructive habit that will not only cost them thousands upon thousands of dollars over their lifetime buying tobacco, but will also irreversibly damage their health and/or lead to premature death.

Perhaps Sen. Bray and others would like to sit down with me so I can explain in detail what it was like watching my 57-year-old mother die in front of my eyes because her lungs were absolutely trashed from cigarettes. Nevermind that my son is likely going to be deprived of his maternal great-grandfather who now has cancer from smoking and probably all of his maternal grandparents who are heavy smokers and already have significant health issues manifesting.

“If we go with a tax like that — and we very well may do that someday — then we want to make sure that it’s going to really move the needle on some of the health parameters that we really need to move as far as the health of Hoosiers go,” Bray said recently after the cigarette tax was stripped.

“We very well may do that someday?!?”

This has been an ongoing issue for half a decade already and you’ve shown total disregard to do anything. Why should anyone believe that you’re going to be getting to it someday?

Do you need me to break down the numbers on cigarette taxes vs. smoking rates? I’ll be happy to do it since you apparently are too lazy, ignorant or inept to look up those figures yourselves. I know lawmakers have a gaggle of aides surrounding them. Why not have one of them look it up for you because you’re too busy getting to it someday?

So, Sen. Bray, local senators Sue Glick (R-LaGrange) and Dennis Kruse (R-Auburn), and other Senate Republicans — this is on you. The House has shown it is at least willing to do the bare minimum.

Apparently you can’t even manage to muster the will to do that.

But hey, maybe next year will be someday.

Not love,

Steve
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