Ballard Punts Smoking to the State and Daniels

As part of The Indianapolis Star’s piece today on Indiana having the second highest smoking rate in the country, Mayor Greg Ballard’s Deputy Chief-of-staff Robert Vane punted the smoking issue to the state saying that Ballard, “can only worry about Indianapolis and not the entire state.”

We won’t dwell too long on how poorly thought out that statement is from a leadership standpoint. Suffice it to say that if all Ballard is interested in is Indianapolis, then why should other parts of the state care about helping Indy.

This mayor has advocated sharing some regional economic development efforts, at least in word, with surrounding counties, which can be translated as asking for help.

It is assumed the administration wishes some bits of legislation from the Indiana General Assembly this upcoming session and perhaps some continued partnership efforts from Governor Mitch Daniels. Saying you are only gonna worry about the city of Indianapolis without concern for the rest of the state isn’t really a good strategy for winning legislative votes and statewide support.

But lets look at the more substantial lack-of-leadership issue here. Mayor Ballard has now punted this issue to the state and Daniels, but, as he seemed uninformed of in the recent smoking ban ordinance discussion, he has a role he can play in lobbying for a state solution. Then he could maybe offer some leadership on what, in light of the Star’s piece, is a statewide issue:

More than 26 percent of all Hoosier adults smoked in 2008, according to a report released Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Indiana was sixth the previous year, but it has puffed past the national median of 20.6 percent — not exactly something to celebrate.

Vane’s Indy-only-cares-about-Indy assertion:

More recently, the City-County Council has discussed but not yet voted on an ordinance that would put in place a similar ban in Indianapolis. Mayor Greg Ballard, however, has vowed to veto the measure if it passes.

“As an administration, we can only worry about Indianapolis and not the entire state,” said Robert Vane, Ballard’s deputy chief of staff. “The mayor made his decision (about the ban) based on what he thought was best on Indianapolis — it’s considering the free market and economic impact.”

If Ballard is concerned with solving problems from a market-based approach, perhaps he might read A Loyal Opposition’s piece suggesting that smoking is really a state health and tax issue that could be better managed by the state excise department which already commands the tobacco regulating chores round these parts. We wrote:

For our two cents, we think this snafu makes it high time that the Governor and General Assembly start looking at this issue. Seriously. Here is the logic: If tobacco is a controlled substance that State Excise polices, which it is and since the largest objections to the non-smoking ban are certain bar-owners, also governed by excise. And under present state law a bar-owner has to pay an additional premium to excise for the right to sell tobacco in his bar, what is called a tobacco stamp. Then isn’t this really an excise issue?

Why can’t some wise state representative draft a bill that would offer an all-21-and-over establishment (so no family room and no under 21 employees) the ability to pay a sizable premium to excise in order to be a smoking establishment. Thus a market-driven proposal.

If said establishment feels like passing that cost on to their customers and feels smoking is truly needed for their customers, then they have an avenue to satisfy their customers. Worried about some county objections to a ban? Let a county opt out of the ban, but keep the license premium. A portion of the money taken in from the premium and the penalties could be channeled to the state’s Tobacco Use Prevention and Cessation Trust Fund.

It is completely conceivable that you would see a very sizable percentage of establishments that would decide to not pay the premium and go non-smoking for the growing non-smoking clientele.

So if it is a state issue, where has the Governor’s leadership been. He likes to talk about fitness and wellness initiatives. Here is one in his own backyard.

Ballard has said he is only concerned with Indy. Governor Daniels is supposed to care about the whole state. We don’t know what argument he would like to make for not leading. The Star piece makes a pretty good argument that this is clearly a state health concern as well as a state tax and cost concern:

Experts recommend three measures to address a high rate of smokers: Passing a statewide, comprehensive smoke-free law, increasing state taxes and increasing the amount of money for tobacco prevention efforts.”It’s a trifecta,” said Danny McGoldrick, vice president for research at the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “When you put those three things together, that’s when you have the biggest impact.”

Many of the states that have the lowest smoking rates — California, Arizona and New Jersey — are those that have been the most aggressive about indoor smoking laws and about state taxes that drive up the cost of cigarettes, said Dr. Thomas Frieden, the CDC’s director.

“The difference between the states making the most progress and the states not making progress is really stark and shows that government policies make a difference,” Frieden said. “It’s ironic that when we spend more than $7,500 per person, per year, on clinical curative care, we’re struggling to try to spend $10 a year on prevention.”

Daniel’s own administration admits a role:

Two years ago, Indiana raised cigarette taxes, and consumption of cigarettes has dropped, said Dr. Judith Monroe, state health commissioner.This most recent report suggests, however, that people have cut back on smoking, she said, rather than quit.

Although Monroe said she would not necessarily recommend another tax increase at this point — after a federal tax on tobacco was implemented last spring — the state’s relatively low cigarette tax may contribute to its high ranking.

Cigarette taxes in Indiana are just under $1 a pack. Many other states charge upwards of $2 in taxes on cigarettes.

“We’re competing against states that, quite frankly, are doing more than we are,” Monroe said.

We think we have offered a great plank for some legislators and the Governor to think about. the anti-smoking lobby has a chance here to help make more places smoke-free by a market approach, while keeping the clear responsibility with excise and offering those places that feel they must remain smoker friendly an option.

Bonus: The added excise taxes could bolster the drained budget of the state’s smoking cessation efforts.

Next month, the state will hold a summit to engage health-care providers in cessation efforts.

Quitting and not returning to the habit may be particularly difficult in these stressed economic times, said Amy Hanna, president of Cancer Free Lungs, an Indiana-based organization whose volunteers talk to about 6,000 schoolchildren a year about the risks of smoking.

That’s why the best approach to curbing smoking rates, experts agree, is to discourage people from picking up the habit.

But like many other state agencies, Indiana Tobacco Prevention and Cessation saw its budget shrink by about 30 percent this year, Sneegas said. Even fully funded, the agency can’t match the efforts of tobacco companies that spend about $425 million a year on marketing, promotions and discounts in Indiana.

Perhaps this is a role the Governor can play in the American health discussion that isn’t just being Dr. No to President Obama’s 007.

That would be the kind of leadership that seems to be lacking at the top of the City-County Building and in the Governor’s office.

Hey Democratic legislators! Here is an opportunity for you too.

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