INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Chamber continues to target marijuana and nicotine for legislation, advocating for the Legislature to raise the minimum age of purchase from 18 to 21 for both cigarettes and vaping products.
According to a chamber release, smoking costs more than $6 billion annually in lost productivity and increased health care costs for Hoosier businesses.
“We were one of only a couple of states that the smoking rate went up in the past year from 21% to 22%. The national average is only 15%,” Kevin Brinegar, the president and CEO of the Indiana Chamber of Commerce, said. “We’ve seen the crisis that happened over the summer with respect to vaping with 1,600 Americans, at the last count, (who) have encountered severe lung injuries.”
The chamber’s three strategies for reducing smoking and vaping included raising the minimum age of purchase, instituting a tax on vaping products and increasing the cigarette tax, one of the lowest in the region, by $2 per pack.
Senate Minority Leader Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, answering questions as part of a legislator panel, said he didn’t know if the legislators had an “appetite for taxation” in a non-budget year.
“We need to come up with a tax that makes sense; a tax that would be discouraging to youth participation in vaping,” Lanane said. “We should also take a look at this idea of the flavors of nicotine and the attractiveness that that has to our youth.”
Rep. Terri Austin, D-Anderson, said if taxation wouldn’t be addressed at least the Legislature could look at closing the “open system” of vaping products to minors.
“Open systems allow you to basically take and fill with your own material,” Austin said. “And that’s where a lot of the illnesses and deaths have come from with THC items incorporated into those open systems.”
Senate Pro Tem Rod Bray, R-Martinsville, said that while vaping products, as marketed, provide a way for consumers to shift away from nicotine and cigarettes, it also allows for an alternate pathway to nicotine addiction for new users.
“I think there probably is a place for vaping to help people get themselves off of cigarettes,” Bray said. “But I think the reverse is also true in particular for our youth that are beginning to take up that habit.”
House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said he endorsed raising the minimum age for cigarettes and vaping products to 21.
Since a cigarette tax could potentially require opening up the state budget, which was finalized in the previous session, Austin suggested potentially delaying the minimum age restriction to give business owners a chance to adapt.
Another goal of the chamber will be to increase in-migration of out-of-state or out-of-country residents with postsecondary degrees to fill the open jobs in Indiana’s economy. By eliminating unnecessary licensing or easing the ability of professionals to transfer licenses across state lines, the chamber said Indiana could attract nurses and teachers from other states to address shortages.
“There are also many (licensing requirements) that don’t serve that purpose and really only serve as a barrier to entry,” Brinegar said. “If a nurse wants to come from Indiana who’s under (a) license from one of those other states, they can use that (reciprocal arrangement) without having to start a nursing career all over again.”
This partially addresses one of the biggest concerns for Hoosier employers: finding qualified candidates to fill open positions.
According to the chamber, nearly half of Indiana employers left positions open because of underqualified applicants, decreasing slightly from 51% to 49%. Of the position applicants, employers told the chamber that 45% said they weren’t attracted to the community where the company was located.
“We have areas in the state of Indiana that are not especially attractive to new, younger folks with postsecondary credentials,” Brinegar said. “We want to push the policies that will empower those communities to think regionally and act regionally.”