Indiana making progress against Big Tobacco

It’s been 12 years since the major class-action Tobacco Settlement Agreement was made between the attorneys general of 46 states, including Indiana, and the four largest tobacco companies. Indiana’s share of the settlement created a trust fund for a state program dedicated to tobacco control.

Ten years after the Indiana Tobacco Prevention and Cessation (ITPC) organization was formed and significant progress has been made to reduce smoking rates in the state, agency officials say they have no plans to slow tobacco education and prevention efforts.

Big Tobacco continues to come up with creative ways to package and market tobacco products, particularly to youth and young adults, whose options today include such smokeless products as SNUS in various flavors and packaged in tea-bag like pouches; a “dissolvable” form of tobacco that you place on your tongue; a product that looks like a small breath mint; and even a “toothpick” tobacco product.

“All these products were test-marketed in central Indiana,” said Karla Sneegas, ITPC executive director. She was in Fort Wayne on Wednesday to meet with community leaders to discuss the state’s tobacco control efforts.

Among the successes:

  • Indiana youth cigarette smoking rates decreased 42 percent from 2000 to 2008.
  • Adult cigarette usage dropped in that period slightly, with the 2008 rate of 23.1 percent the lowest on record.
  • Today, 70 percent of the state’s public primary- and secondary-school campuses are smoke-free.
  • Forty Indiana communities have passed smoke-free ordinances. Twelve of those — one being Fort Wayne — have passed comprehensive ordinances prohibiting smoking in all workplaces, including bars and restaurants. But those comprehensive laws cover less than 10 percent of the state’s population – and Indiana still ranks in the top 10 list of states with highest smoking rates.

“Indiana needs to have all public places smoke-free, just like Ohio, Michigan and Illinois,” Sneegas said.

Indiana H.B. 1018, which passed the House on the third reading, 68-31, is a giant leap forward to ensure smoke-free air in public places throughout the state. But multiple exemptions were included in the proposed legislation before it moved out of the House, Sneegas said. Among the exemptions are bars, taverns, horseracing facilities, riverboats, casinos, retail tobacco stores, clubs requiring “memberships” and long-term care facilities. The latter must have designated smoking areas.

Advocates of a statewide ordinance are hoping the Senate will drop the exemptions. Sneegas said she has concerns that, as the proposed legislation moves through the Senate, “The bill is getting positioned as a ban on smoking. This is not a ban. This is a smoke-free air policy to protect Indiana workers. Indiana workers are important to business development,” which is why, she said, the Indiana Chamber of Commerce finally adopted a position of approval. “Normally, the Chamber would not be lobbying for any kind of additional regulations (on businesses).”

Renetta Williams, executive director of Health Visions of Fort Wayne, a nonprofit that identifies health needs in underserved populations of the city, voiced concerns over dwindling tobacco control funding because money has been diverted to other state programs.

“How do we get money back to implement the programs?” she asked.

Dick Conklin, executive director of Tobacco Free Allen County, a partner agency to ITPC, said that issue will be addressed at a Feb. 21 meeting of a local coalition working on tobacco-related issues.

In 2006, the tobacco industry spent an estimated $426 billion marketing their products in Indiana, according to ITPC’s Website, That is 46 times more than the state spent that year for tobacco control.

Taxing tobacco reduces usage, Sneegas said, noting after the state implemented a tax increase on cigarettes from 44 cents to 99.5 cents in 2007, “We saw a 20 percent reduction in cigarette consumption in the first quarter.” Then in 2009, when the federal government levied a $1.40 tax increase, “We had triple the calls to the Indiana Quitline.”

One needed policy change, Sneegas said, is smokeless tobacco products are taxed at lower rates. Unlike cigarettes, which must be bought in packs, those products can be purchased singly at much lower cost, a draw for youths and cash-strapped adults. Recessionary times decrease funds for tobacco control and have the opposite effect on people struggling with economic-related stress.

“In times of recession, old behaviors sometimes kick in,” Sneegas said. People who have quit often take up the habit again.

Similar challenges are faced by special populations who have tobacco addiction, said Paul Wilson, executive director of Park Center, Fort Wayne’s community mental health center. Individuals with serious mental illnesses have very high smoking rates. For people with schizophrenia, for example, “Nicotine quiets the voices.” Despite those challenges, Wilson said Park Center is committed to be a 100 percent smoke-free campus by June 1.

“Smoking is going to become more of an issue in certain pockets,” Sneegas said, such as the mentally ill, lower educated and the unemployed.


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