The American Cancer Society’s “Cancer Action Network” is urging Iowa’s political leaders to increase the state tax on cigarettes. Dr. Richard Deming — a Des Moines oncologist — founded “Above + Beyond Cancer” and has led cancer survivors on mountain climbing trips. He is at the statehouse today, talking with legislators.
“There’s really, unbelievably, nothing more important to decrease the smoking rate like the cost of a pack of cigarettes,” Deming says.
In 1921, Iowa was the first state in the country to tax cigarettes, at two-cents per package. In 2007, the tax was raised a dollar and now stands at $1.36 per pack.
“We’re about in the middle of the road in terms of the rest of the country,” Deming says. “At the point that the cigarette tax was increased before, that put us at a high level. Smoking rates actually went down considerably when that happened. Now that we do not have that high of a tax compared to other states, the cigarette smoking rate has started to go up again in the state of Iowa.”
Raising the cigarette tax will be a hard sell for most Republican legislators. Representative Dave Heaton, a Republican from Mount Pleasant, is skeptical.
“I’m under the understanding that our smoking rates are going down,” Heaton says.
And Heaton hears of “bootlegging” in southern Iowa, as smokers cross the border to buy cigarettes in Missouri, where the state tax on cigarettes is the lowest in the nation.
The Cancer Society is also urging legislators to vote to ban smoking at the state’s casinos. In 2008, the casinos won an exemption when Iowa lawmakers banned smoking in public places. House Republican Leader Linda Upmeyer of Clear Lake doesn’t expect action on that.
“I’ve not heard anything about anybody wanting to bring that up,” Upmeyer says, “at least not in the House.”
The Iowa Senate has endorsed a ban on smoking on the casino gaming floors before, but the ban has never passed the House.
About 16 percent of adults in Iowa were smokers in 2010 according to the Centers for Disease — and that’s the most recent year CDC has data available. The Cancer Society’s “Action Network” also supports expanding state programs that help smokers quit, as well as efforts to reduce radon levels in homes and schools.