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(INDIANAPOLIS) – A cigarette tax hike is on the verge of going up in smoke at the statehouse, but supporters aren’t giving up.

A statehouse rally studded with a mix of doctors and high school students donned giant raised foam fingers to signify their push to raise the tax to three dollars a pack. That’s triple what it is now.

IU Health oncologist Paul Anthony says about 150,000 people die each year of lung cancer — a cancer he says would be rare if not for cigarettes. He argues the best way to reduce the smoking rate is to get people not to start, and the most effective way to do that is to make the habit more expensive by raising the tax.

American Academy of Pediatrics Indiana president Tony GiaQuinta is the nephew of House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta (D-Fort Wayne). He says the lives lost to smoking don’t start with cancer deaths, but begin at birth. Smoking is linked to premature birth, low birth weight and sudden infant death syndrome, and GiaQuinta says it’s no coincidence that Indiana has persistently had one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country.

A bill to triple the tax didn’t get a hearing, and Republicans rejected a Democratic attempt on Tuesday to add it to the state budget bill. House Ways and Means Co-Chairman Todd Huston (R-Fishers) says the budget bill should be limited to money the state can rely on, not provisions which could disappear by the time a final budget is approved. But while he doesn’t rule out the tax hike popping up elsewhere, he says he doesn’t think the time is right this year.

The House has passed cigarette taxes twice in the last three years, but that was part of the debate over road funding. Huston notes a new tax on e-cigarettes, at a lower rate than even the current cigarette tax, came within three votes of failing when it passed the House last week.

(Photo: SebastYin/Thinkstock)