The best argument in favor of strengthening Indiana’s anti-smoking efforts may be the most recent numbers on teen smoking.
Protecting public health by increasing the incentive to keep Hoosiers from lighting up ought to be a priority.
Although teen smoking has declined, more than 3 million high school students and 600,000 middle school students still smoke cigarettes.
While numbers have declined in recent years nationwide, the dropoff has slowed.
In Indiana, the decline in smoking among high school youth from 2000 to 2010 was 45 percent; among middle school students during the same period, the drop was even greater, 56 percent. By high school, however, our young people smoke at a rate that outpaces the national average.
Among adults, Indiana has consistently remained among the nation’s top 10 states for tobacco use. An estimated 21 percent of Hoosiers age 18 and older smoke; that’s more than a million smokers.
Studies say that 9 in 10 smokers start before they turn age 18 and that youthful addiction brings the potential for more serious health effects.
Given the immense public education effort on this issue, it is impossible to think teens are unaware of dangers or that giving them more information can entirely overcome the risk-taking and peer pressure that turns youths to tobacco.
What has been effective? Tightening enforcement of statutes that outlaw selling tobacco to minors.
Indiana authorities already are aggressive in this regard. Increasing tobacco taxes can help, too. The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids cites research suggesting that a 10 percent increase in the price of cigarettes cuts kids’ smoking about 7 percent.
Tightening the new statewide smoking ban to discourage smoking in every public place, as its advocates suggest, would also send a message and promote a healthier Hoosier culture.