INDIANAPOLIS -- Indiana's legal age for buying tobacco products would increase from 18 to 21 under a bill backed by a House panel on Monday.
The House Public Health committee voted 9-0 to support the measure by Democratic Rep. Charlie Brown of Gary.
Indiana consistently ranks poorly among states when it comes to key measures of public health, including smoking rates. Increasing the smoking age could create a powerful disincentive to in a state where one-in-five people smoke, supporters say.
Brown, who is retiring this year after more than 30 years in the General Assembly, has made health issues a focus of his public service career. He says increasing the smoking age would not only improve health, but also save the state money.
"Many people who use tobacco products also rely on government for their health care costs," said Brown, who says his bill would "save lives and save government revenue."
The measure is supported by the Indiana Chamber of Commerce and veterans groups. But the plan was opposed during the committee hearing by the convenience store lobby, which warned that it would cost them revenue, drive people to other states to purchase tobacco and lead to an increase in cigarette bootlegging.
A trade association representing the vaping industry also opposed the measure, which would also apply to the sale of electronic cigarettes.
Joe Lackey, president of the Indiana Grocery and Convenience Store Association, said the law was unnecessary because tobacco sales are already in a death spiral. He characterized the bill as a "symbolic, do-nothing law" supported by "people on their high horses who tell adults what they can't do."
Brown called that argument "poppycock."
"'We are going to lose revenue' - that's what I've heard for the last dozen years," said Brown. "What's more important: revenue or a life?"
Brown initially sought to raise Indiana's $1 per pack cigarette tax to $3, but that provision was stripped out by the committee.
Last year, a smaller cigarette tax increase was included the House GOP budget, though the proposal died after the Senate opposed the measure and Gov. Eric Holcomb also voiced concern.