Indianapolis Star Editorial

In State News on July 20, 2009 at 9:13 am

Check out this recent editorial in the Indianapolis Star:

Snuffing out youth puffing

If physical health is inseparable from economic well-being — and it is — then one might argue that Indiana can’t stand prosperity.

Cigarettes kill roughly 10,000 Hoosiers a year and cost the state an estimated $3.5 billion in hospitalization, lost work time and other damage. It would make good fiscal sense for Indiana, one of the nation’s heaviest-smoking states, to kick the habit.

And we’re headed that way, according to a recent survey by Indiana Tobacco Prevention and Cessation. The anti-smoking organization found that puffing by high school students has dropped 42 percent since the start of the decade, while the vice has declined 58 percent among middle-schoolers.

The good news would be even better if it did not follow an Indiana General Assembly session in which a proposed statewide smoking ban succumbed to special-interest politics and funding for anti-tobacco education and assistance for aspiring quitters was slashed.

We have seen this penny wisdom and pound foolishness before. About a decade ago, when the state was devoting the bulk of its share of the nationwide tobacco lawsuit settlement to anti-smoking efforts, youth smoking plummeted. When our leaders commenced to siphon off most of the windfall for other, unrelated budgetary needs, youth smoking shot up again.

The decline in recent years has been attributed, reasonably enough, to the proliferation of local anti-smoking ordinances and the 44-cent cigarette tax increase enacted in 2007, along with the work of Indiana Tobacco Prevention and Cessation. Clearly, a statewide ban and a lighter hit on the organization’s finances would have been timely investments in money and political capital, given the benefits.

As it turned out, a funding cut that was expected to be about 10 percent widened to 33 percent during the special session, leaving the program with just under $11 million compared to the $32 million a year it originally commanded from the settlement.

Hard times make for hard choices; bringing better times requires tougher decisions than lawmakers and the Daniels administration were willing to make this year when it came to the health of the younger generation.

At the same time, indications are that the status of smoking among adolescents has deteriorated despite seductive advertising and media glamorization. Education, taxation, ordinances and restrictions have been essential to that change of consciousness, and the heat must be kept on.


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