About two-hundred high schoolers wearing turquoise t-shirts are swarming the statehouse this (Wednesday) afternoon, pestering lawmakers to raise the state tax on cigarettes.
Eighteen-year-old Cassie Peterson of Leon, a senior at Central Decatur High School, is president of the statewide student group that calls itself JEL — Just Eliminate Lies. She says raising the cigarette tax by a buck-a-pack is a health initiative because it would cause many to quit and keep others from starting.
“We elect our officials to support us, to represent us and by god, they ought to represent (the) 70 percent of Iowans (who) are in support of this $1 tobacco tax increase,” Peterson says. Peterson says it’s a personal issue for her because she believes raising the price of a pack of smokes will keep young kids from picking up the habit. “I have a mother, a brother, a sister, a grandfather — everybody in my family smokes,” Peterson says.
Both of her siblings started smoking before they were 10, and Peterson herself once smoked. She’s since kicked the habit. “I know what it’s like to try to quit,” she says. The kids’ t-shirts say raising the tobacco tax would save the lives of 60-thousand Iowans. Peterson acknowledges it’s an uphill battle to convince Republican leaders in the House to allow a vote on a cigarette tax increase. Peterson says smokers are costing taxpayers because their addiction causes health problems.