Debates Indiana lawmakers have been having for years will once again surface in the 2021 session, including whether to raise the state’s cigarette tax. But that issue may find new life thanks to viewing it through a new lens: the COVID-19 pandemic.
Lawmakers have debated an increase in the cigarette tax for half a decade. It’s even passed one chamber – the House – multiple times but never reached the finish line.
Yet its chances look better than ever amid the COVID-19 pandemic, both as a way to improve public health and as a revenue generator.
House Democratic Leader Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne) has long supported raising the tax. But he said the key will be how lawmakers use the money.
“I just don’t want it to go back into the General Fund or something like that," GiaQuinta said. "I’d like to really see some concrete programs that we’re going to use the money for to improve the health of Hoosiers.”
House Speaker Todd Huston (R-Fishers) agreed. The reason to pass a cigarette tax hike, he said, is to improve health, not to raise revenue.
“It’s the one thing, more than cessation programs or other things, that’s been shown to reduce smoking," Huston said. "So, literally the day you implement the new tax rate is the most amount of money you’re going to collect if the policy’s successful, right?”
The legislative session is set to begin Jan. 4.