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Should Indiana increase its smoking age to 21? House panel says yes

State Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, makes the case Monday at the House Public Health Committee for his legislation that would set 21 as the minimum age to purchase or use tobacco products in Indiana, up from 18. The panel voted 8-0 to advance Brown's proposal to the full House.

It's a matter that divided our editorial board in part but unified us in the deeper issue.

Smoking is detrimental to the health of our society — and a scourge on the future of many of our youth in particular.

We can support any number of taxes on tobacco, particularly ones that funnel money to funding the vast public health costs that are part of smoking's fallout.

But what our editorial board can't unite behind is a measure by Indiana House Rep. Charlie Brown, D-Gary, to raise Indiana's smoking age from 18 to 21. A similar plan is being considered in Illinois.

Though the measure unanimously passed an Indiana House committee earlier this week, the full House was right to kill the bill late Tuesday.

The crippling and all-too-often deadly effects of lung cancer, cardiopulmonary lung disease, emphysema and a host of other smoking-related illnesses are reason enough for anyone to conclude our society would be better off without tobacco.

But cigarettes remain a legal product.

It's hard to see how raising the smoking age by three years does anything but limit the rights of legal adults, who at age 18 can be drafted to die for their country, will be tried as adults upon criminal charges and have the legal right to vote.

It's possible Brown is right — that raising the smoking age could inhibit smoking among younger generations.

The Indiana House Public Health Committee may agree with that sentiment, as it passed Brown's proposal, only to watch it die a day later in the full House.

Brown backed a similar bill last year. But that failed legislation included a hike to the state's cigarette tax.

This year's bill included no tax.

Meanwhile, our society knows all too well that raising legal age thresholds doesn’t always prevent youth from partaking of regulated substances. Underage drinking and smoking persist, even as the legal smoking age in Indiana stands at 18 and the legal drinking age is set at 21.

The state should be doing all it can to educate all Hoosiers — especially teens and young adults — on the dangers of smoking.

But playing big brother to legal adults isn't the answer.

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Members of The Times Editorial Board are Publisher Christopher T. White, Local News Editor Marc Chase, Lake County Editor Crista Zivanovic, Porter/LaPorte County Editor Doug Ross and Deputy Local Editor Erin Orr.