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Indiana Lawmakers Fall Short in Fight Against Cancer

August 15, 2011

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - When it comes to preventing smoking and cancer, Indiana is doing some things right - but there is room for improvement. Brad Burk, government relations director for the American Cancer Society Great Lakes Division, says Indiana's share of the federal tobacco settlement money continues to grow, but as in many cash-strapped states, lawmakers have decided to use most of the funds for programs other than its original intention, tobacco-use prevention.

"That's devastating, because Indiana receives this money because the state has incurred costs for treating sick smokers for decades."

The Cancer Society wants to increase cigarette taxes to cut smoking and boost revenue, money Burk says could be used to expand early detection programs for breast and cervical cancer for women. In a new report evaluating each state's cancer-fighting efforts, the Cancer Action Network praises Indiana lawmakers for voting for insurance coverage for colorectal cancer screenings, but says they still need to pass a statewide smoke-free air law.

Burk says raising the cigarette tax comparable to other states would not only keep people from picking up the habit, but would increase revenue to fund cancer-fighting programs. Indiana's cigarette tax is $1 a pack, while many other states tax a pack at $1.46, he notes.

"Smokers unfortunately are costing the state a pretty good chunk of money. And so, some people ask why they should have to pay an additional tax. The answer is, we're paying millions and millions of dollars to pay for their health care costs down the road."

Indiana also is one of 15 states that has not enacted a statewide smoke-free air law, Burk adds.

"There has been activity at the capitol for the last three or four years - particularly in the last couple of years, pretty significant activity - to pass a statewide smoke-free air law, and I do think that's going to happen."

State Rep. Charlie Brown (D-Gary) has said he will again introduce clean air smoke-free legislation in the upcoming General Assembly.

The report, "How Do You Measure Up?: A Progress Report on State Legislative Activity to Reduce Cancer Incidence and Mortality," was released Aug. 11 at the National Conference of State Legislatures annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas. It is available at www.acscan.org.

Leigh DeNoon, Public News Service - IN