Laws, taxes lead to fewer smokers in Indiana

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With a smoking rate of 25 percent, Indiana still has one of the highest smoking rates in the nation, but is on the decline. One indicator? Cigarette tax revenue. Numbers from the Indiana Department of Revenue show it's dropped 13 percent over the last five years, going from $525 million in 2008 to $456 million in 2012.

Kimberly Jolley is not surprised. While she smokes, she's thinking a lot about quitting. For one, she says smoking is expensive. She pays up to $6 a pack. Plus, there are far fewer places to light up, thanks to all the smoke-free laws.

"When it's cold outside and you have to come outside like this, it's a major issue for me, so I'm working on it," Jolley said.

Lindsay Grace with the American Lung Association (and also SmokeFree Indy) believes fewer Hoosiers are smoking in part because of state and federal taxes, which add $2 to pack a of cigarettes. But she also thinks it has to do with new and tougher no-smoking laws across the state.

Indiana banned smoking in most public places, including restaurants last summer, while Indianapolis expanded its ban to bars.

Related: Bar owners will appeal smoking ban ruling

"If you're not smoking all day at work and you can't smoke at the bar and the bartender and patrons aren't smoking there isn't the same volume of cigarettes, and even if they don't quit, which we hope they do, they're smoking less," Grace said.

At Randy's Tobacco Shop they have their own theories.

Mark Paul, a former cigarette smoker, who now smokes cigars said, "I think the great recession is a factor in that, cigarettes aren't cheap."

Store owner Randy Biggs said while there's "probably a small downtick in people buying cigarettes, I think the major (reason) is they're making their own."

Biggs says many smokers are buying pipe tobacco, which is taxed at a much lower rate.

"A carton of Marlboro's is $54-55 and you can make your own for $15," he said.

While Brook Wilson, a new smoker, said she doesn't mind the smoke-free laws, she does mind the cost of cigarettes.

"I'm thinking I'm spending a lot to kill myself, especially with these taxes," she said.

Asked how high they'd have to go before she quit, Wilson said, "I'm at that point now. I actually started smoking a hookah in college, so now I'm looking at going back to the hookah and leaving cigarettes alone."

Fewer people smoking means less cigarette tax revenue for the state. Most of it goes to the general fund, but some goes to local communities.

But Grace said fewer smokers means less money spent on health care.

Mark Paul though was quick to counter that. Taking another puff of his cigar he said, "One theory is people who smoke cost us less because they die I'll die sooner and we'll all save money."