The board that oversees the three state universities today voted to send out a stronger statement in favor of increasing the tax on cigarettes. Individual members of the Board of Regents have expressed their opinion in favor of raising the cigarette tax — but this is the first time the board as a whole has acted on the issue. Regent Mary Ellen Becker of Oskaloosa says in the board’s oversight of the University of Iowa Hospitals is one reason to push for the increased cigarette tax. She says with the interest of the health care of Iowans and the funding that has to go to heavily into health care, she says the increase would free up some dollars that could help support the universities. Regent Michael Gartner of Des Moines asked that something else be added to the issue.He says the issue has two prongs, the Regents oversight of the hospitals and funding. He suggests that they add a third prong — which is to discourage students from smoking. Gartner says studies show that if you keep someone from smoking before they’re 20, they likely won’t start. He says studies also show that young people have two influences in choosing to smoke — price and peer pressure. The Regents executive secretary will draw up a board statement in favor of raising the cigarette tax based on the motion approved at today’s meeting in Ames.