Madison Elementary School student testifies at State House Committee tobacco hearing

Eleven-year-old Cayman Blake thinks raising the tax on tobacco products and increasing the minimum age to use  them to 21 would help keep tobacco out of the hands of more Hoosiers, especially young people.

On Jan. 29, the Madison Elementary School sixth-grader testified before the State House Committee on Public Health to that fact.

House Bill 1380 originally would have raised the state cigarette tax by $2 per pack and increased the minimum buying age from 18 to 21. The bill passed through the Committee 9-0 on Jan. 29 only after the portion increasing the state cigarette tax by $2 per pack was removed, according to WNDU.

A day after the bill was passed, House Speaker Brian Bosma recommitted the proposal to the House Ways and Means Committee, which effectively killed the measure because House bills were required to pass out of committee Jan. 30 to be considered on the floor for a vote, according to the Indianapolis Star Jan. 30.

Cayman said he testified before the House panel because they wanted a young person’s perspective on raising the tax and minimum age to use. A Westfield High School teen also testified.

“The week before that, I was there that Monday also, to go to, it was almost like a rally inside the Statehouse. We went there and talked to our House people that represent our area,” Cayman recalled during an interview at Madison Monday afternoon.

He was at the “rally” with his mom, Heidi Blake, coordinator for Kosciusko County Tobacco Free Coalition.

“It was not like a full rally, but we went inside the Statehouse and we were there in the South Atrium. And there was a guy instructing us: So if you want to help pass this bill, you should go talk to our senators, and he gave us advice on what to do,” Cayman said.

That’s when Cayman met 3rd District Rep. Charlie Brown, a Democrat from Gary. It was Brown who invited Cayman to speak before the House panel.

Personally, Cayman thinks the bill should have been passed “so less kids have access to the harmful products of tobacco. We don’t want kids to get addicted at a young age.”

Cayman said he was “very nervous” testifying before the House committee.

“I talked about raising the cigarette tax, and we should raise it by at least $1. I talked about how less youth would have access to it, less people could buy it, because they wouldn’t have the money. It would be harder for youth to get it,” he said.

In an email from his mom to Madison Principal Ben Barkey, she said she read an article stating Cayman might be the youngest person to ever speak in the Indiana House Chamber.

“I am not sure if that is true, but he did a great job,” she said in the email.

When Cayman heard H.B. 1380 was killed, Cayman said he was saddened, but not defeated.

“They say they may bring it back up in a couple of months or next year they’re going to bring it back, so we’re going to have a second shot at it,” Cayman said, adding he would testify again in support of the bill if asked.