Anti-smoking activists say they’ve built a grassroots network to try to persuade lawmakers to raise the state tax on cigarettes. But Dan Ramsey of the American Lung Association of Iowa admits it’ll be a tough sell. “The tobacco companies have a real strong hold on a lot of legislators here,” Ramsey says. “They’re backed by the grocers association and they’re backed by the convenience stores’ association as well…We’re outgunned and we’re outspent, basically.”
Republican leaders in the Iowa House say they don’t want to raise any taxes, including the cigarette tax. Ramsey says they’re looking at it wrong.”Until legislators can get their heads around the idea that it’s a health issue, not a revenue issue, they might have some problems with it,” Ramsey says. “State after state, program after program has shown that if you raise the tobacco tax, people quit smoking and young people don’t start and pregnant women don’t continue.”
For every 10 percent hike in the cigarette tax, Ramsey says there’s a 17 percent decline in the number of kids who take up the habit. “Children are very price-sensitive,” Ramsey says. “They only have so much money and you raise (the tax) a dollar a pack, you know, kids are going to start thinking about it and it’s going to have an impact.”
Ramsey and the Tobacco Free Partnership of Iowa are asking legislators to raise the tax on a pack of cigarettes by a dollar. Governor Tom Vilsack is asking legislators to raise it 80 cents per pack. Last April, the Iowa Senate voted to raise the cigarette tax by 36 cents a pack but the House never took up the proposal.