On Tuesday, I will be going to the Indiana Statehouse to join hundreds of other youth and adult advocates calling for an increase in the state cigarette tax to reduce tobacco use and save lives. This debate is personal to me.

When I was in sixth grade, I moved to Elkhart from Chicago with my mother and sister. I still miss the noise of the city and I miss my grandmother, Miss Red. We called her Miss Red because she was so light-skinned, she would turn red in the sun! She passed away from a heart attack because she smoked so many cigarettes. I keep her photo above my bed. It is her and my dad in front of a fountain in Chicago.

I am now 15 and go to school at Concord High School. While I don’t smoke, my sister does. I am concerned for her, but also about the risk to my nieces and nephews.

At a recent youth tobacco event, I learned more about how Big Tobacco markets to kids. They put advertisements below waist level, so little kids can see it and point at it. They use colorful packaging, like candy. I never realized. I now know that my nieces and nephews are going to be talking about it and looking at it. I don’t want them to deal with that.

Big Tobacco targets kids and youth like my nieces and nephews no matter where they live in America and they especially try to make products cheap so kids can afford to start. 

To beat Big Tobacco in Indiana, we need to learn from them. The most effective way to protect my nieces and nephews is to raise the price of cigarettes. Sadly, our cigarette tax in Indiana is under $1 per pack. It is 100 percent lower than in Michigan. It is no wonder that our smoking rate in Indiana ranks sixth worst out of the 50 states and one in five Hoosier adults smoke. Predictably, 3,100 youth become daily smokers each year.

We need Indiana lawmakers and the governor to join us and combat Big Tobacco. If they consider the life-saving benefits of raising the cigarette tax, the stories of people like my grandma, Miss Red, and the risk to my nephews and nieces, I think they’ll see this is the right thing to do.

The Raise It for Health campaign, of which I’m a youth ambassador, says that raising the cigarette tax would protect 60,000 Indiana youth from ever starting to smoke. It could help so many smoking adults – parents – quit. It could do so much good.

It isn’t just young people like me who support policy changes to reduce tobacco use. On Feb. 19, I’ll be helping to deliver 7,000 postcards of support to Indiana lawmakers. Each one is meaningful, but the name I’ll be carrying with me is that of my grandmother, Miss Red.

I hope lawmakers will listen to young Hoosiers like me and take steps this year to make Indiana a healthier state by reducing tobacco use.

Nyla Jackson is a student at Concord High School and a youth ambassador for the Raise It For Health campaign. 

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