News From Terre Haute, Indiana

State News

June 19, 2012

Smoking ban may signal more legislative action

State chamber says bad habit is hurting Indiana’s economy

INDIANAPOLIS — When Indiana’s new statewide smoking ban kicks into effect July 1, it may be a signal of more anti-tobacco efforts to come.

The influential Indiana Chamber of Commerce is calling for more action — including legislation — to curb smoking, saying Indiana’s tobacco addiction is driving up health-care costs for business and creating an unhealthy climate for economic prosperity.

The chamber’s long-term legislative agenda calls for “bold steps” that include higher taxes on tobacco products, more regulation of tobacco sales, and the repeal of the state’s  “smoker’s bill of rights” that forbids employers from making smokers pay higher out-of-pocket costs for their health insurance.

The chamber is the state’s leading pro-business advocate, and most of its legislative efforts are focused on less, not more, government intrusion. But chamber president Kevin Brinegar said Indiana’s high smoking rate — fifth highest in the nation — is costing the state billions in health-care bills and harming business.

“We have some of the highest health-care costs in the nation with some of the worst outcomes,” Brinegar said. “It’s a huge negative for businesses that are here and works against us in attracting new business.”

This month, Ball State University’s Global Health Institute released a report that said Indiana’s smoking habit is costing the state’s employers nearly $2.6 billion in productivity losses and $2.2 billion in health-care costs each year.

The smoking ban that goes into effect next month may put a dent in those numbers if the prohibition on smoking in the workplace causes more people to quit.

The chamber backed the new state smoking ban. It lobbied for a more comprehensive ban that covered all workplaces and public places, but ended up supporting the final legislation that exempts bars and casinos and a handful of other places.

Brinegar predicted those exemptions will likely disappear in coming years, but said the current ban is much better than nothing. “It covers 95 percent of the workplaces in Indiana, including restaurants,” Brinegar said. “That’s significant.”

The chamber’s call for more legislation to curb smoking is included in a 30-point plan for economic prosperity called Indiana Vision 2025. The plan, which also covers education, employment and infrastructure issues, was developed by a chamber task force made up of some of the state’s biggest and most influential employers.

Brinegar and his staff have been holding meetings around the state to unveil the plan and get feedback on it from business, government and community leaders. On Monday, he met with a group in Indianapolis that included Jean Neel, vice president of corporate affairs at Kokomo-based Haynes International.

“Health care costs are a huge, huge issue for employers right now,” Neel said, emphasizing that any legislation has to be part of a larger effort to deal with health and wellness issues in the workplace. “We’re talking about a cultural change that has to occur.”

One of the biggest proponents of a smoking ban has been the Indiana chapter of the American Cancer Society; ACS officials have argued that a smoking ban will protect non-smokers from secondhand smoke. Amanda Estridge, head of government affairs for the state chapter, said the economic argument for anti-smoking legislation may resonate even more with the Republicans who have control of the Indiana Statehouse.

“The GOP’s message has been so focused on job growth,” Estridge said. “If we want to have an environment that attracts business, we need a healthy workforce.”

It’s still too early to know when any new anti-smoking legislation may be introduced. The next session of the Indiana General Assembly doesn’t meet until January, after the November election that will produce a new governor and some new legislators. The smoking ban bill was introduced six times in the Indiana General Assembly before it passed this year.

Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

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