INDIANAPOLIS – House Republicans will push to raise the smoking and vaping age in Indiana to 21 in the upcoming legislative session.
In 2018, the House killed a bill to raise the smoking age. An attempt in the Senate this year died in committee. But House and Senate leaders say they’re alarmed by skyrocketing rates of vaping among teenagers. House Speaker Brian Bosma says he’ll make it a priority to raise the minimum age, and says a “vast majority” of House Republicans agree.
Bosma announced his support at the Indiana Chamber’s annual legislative preview luncheon. The Chamber has been lobbying to raise not only the legal age, but taxes, supporting a doubling of the cigarette tax to two dollars a pack, and a first-ever Indiana tax on e-cigarettes. Bosma says he supports a vape tax — the House voted for one last year — but says the upcoming 10-week session isn’t long enough for the complexities of a tax bill. He says he’ll keep the minimum-age bill as a stand-alone to keep the tax debate from dragging it down.
Chamber president Kevin Brinegar says there are now more teenage vapers than smokers, but says teenagers who vape often move on to cigarettes. He says studies indicate 95-percent of people who start smoking before age 21 become lifelong smokers. He says raising the age won’t eliminate underage smoking, any more than underage drinking has been eliminated. But he says it would sharply reduce the number of teenagers who smoke.
Bosma played a key role in spiking the 2018 attempt to raise the smoking age, but says he’s changed his position on the idea. He notes tobacco companies have endorsed the change — probably, he suggests, to head off something stricter. And Bosma says while he’d previously endorsed the argument that people old enough to enlist in the military should have the right to smoke, he reconsidered after the Pentagon banned smoking in boot camp and endorsed the higher age. Veterans’ groups have called for a smoking age of 21 as well, and Indiana Senator Todd Young (R) has authored a bill that would make it federal law.
Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray say their top priority is to grant a mulligan for schools and teachers for the results of the first year of the ILEARN test. Both parties in the House say they want to strengthen protections against surprise medical bills, when one of the doctors at the hospital turns out to be out of network. And Bray says Senate Republicans will start a multi-year push to reduce hospital costs by introducing a bill requiring a clearer up-front statement of what those prices are.
Legislators gather Tuesday for the ceremonial start of the 2020 session before beginning work in earnest in January.