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INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana is ranked fourth highest in the nation for tobacco use, and some are pushing lawmakers to increase taxes on tobacco products to persuade Hoosiers to quit using them.

This has been proposed for years, but it may be more likely to pass in 2021 due to COVID-19.

“The pandemic has taught us that poor quality of health has, unfortunately, a dire consequence,” said Republican Indiana House of Representatives Speaker Todd Huston.

That’s why Indiana’s legislative leadership agrees tobacco tax revenue shouldn’t just go to the General Fund.

“I’d like to really see some concrete programs that we are going to use the money for to improve the health of Hoosiers,” said Democratic Indiana House of Representatives Minority Leader State Rep. Phil GiaQuinta.

“We want to be very thoughtful in what we decide and how we decide that money will be spent on the front end, and not raise the tax and then try to figure out how that will be spent,” said Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray. “Because it’s a decreasing revenue stream without a doubt.”

It’s decreasing because the goal is to get people to quit using tobacco products.

Still, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce estimates its proposal of raising the tobacco product tax by about $2 would bring in more than $400 million per year.

It also saves Hoosier companies money.

“It’s important to business because it’s estimated that tobacco use in Indiana cost Indiana employers $6.2 billion in added healthcare cost, absenteeism and lost productivity,” explained Indiana Chamber of Commerce President Kevin Brinegar.

However, that’s not the main reason the chamber said it supports this measure.

“Our focus at the chamber is on improving the healthiness of our citizenry by reducing the smoking rate, which is the number one cause of preventable disease,” said Brinegar.

Data in other states shows a tobacco tax increase decreases smoking rates.

“This year is the prime year to do it. Our rank in smoking is only getting worse,” said Brinegar.

A bill on this topic has yet to be filed but is expected this coming session. We’ll continue following it and bring you the information as we get it.