The American Lung Association of Iowa today called for a buck a pack increase in the state cigarette tax, but a key republican lawmaker is throwing doubt on such a move. Dan Ramsey of the Central Iowa Tobacco Free Partnership says the state is spending less than one-third as much as it should on smoking cessation and tobacco control programs. He says it’s time to boost the cigarette tax to find more money. “In the past year, the state of Iowa has failed to protect children and adults throughout the state from disease and death caused by tobacco,” Ramsey says. He released the American Lung Assocation’s third annual State of Tobacco Control Report this morning (Thursday) during a statehouse news conference. “We have data to prove that funding comprehensive prevention programs, raising the cigarette taxes, providing smoke-free air and preventing the sales of cigarettes to children can dramatically reduce tobacco use and disease,” Ramsey says. Twenty-one-percent of Iowans smoke and nearly 80 percent of Iowans who have lung cancer smoked; some still smoke. “Raising the cigarette excise tax can rapidly and significantly reduce the number of children who start smoking and encourage many adults to quit,” Ramsey says. Iowa currently charges a tax on 36 cents on a pack of cigarettes. The American Lung Association says even a one dollar increase would not place Iowa’s cigarette tax among the nation’s highest. Rhode Island charges the highest state tax on cigs — at two-dollars-and-46 cents per pack. Ramsey contends nearly 20 percent of Iowa smokers would quit if the tax goes up a dollar. “Raising the cigarette tax is a win, win, win for the citizens of Iowa and for the state of Iowa as well,” Ramsey says. “It’s a win because it’s going to reduce the number of smokers and it’s also going to reduce the number of children who smoke. It’s a win for the state budget by raising an addition one-hundred-63 million dollars to the state coffers and it’s also a win for the state legislators who vote on it because most Iowans support raising the cigarette tax.” But House Republican Leader Chuck Gipp of Decorah doubts Ramsey’s claim of a windfall for the state, and predicts a decline in cigarette tax collections if the per pack charge is a dollar higher. Gipp says legislative leaders in other states tell him estimates of how much new money will be raised by hiking the cigarette tax are always too high because people seek out alternatives. Gipp says people go to other states, they buy cigarettes over the Internet, “they just find other places to go to find cheaper cigarettes.” Gipp says a dollar increase would make Iowa’s cigarette tax higher than surrounding states. And Gipp suggests the state is making some money because residents in other states are now buying their cigarettes from Iowa retailers because Iowa’s tax is cheaper. Gipp says businesses along the borders tell legislators they’re gaining because of Iowa’s current 36-cent-per-pack tax. Gipp says all sorts of groups are pressing lawmakers to raise the cigarette tax — to pay for their pet projects. “You’ve always seen a number of people that advocate for a cigarette tax increase aren’t doing it strictly for the health (reasons), they’re doing it for the revenue increase,” Gipp says.
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