Over one-hundred college students crowded into the state capitol Wednesday to urge lawmakers to boost the state tax on cigarettes, chewing tobacco and cigars. University of Northern Iowa student body president Joe Murphy says the students were there because they care about the future of the state. “Smoking is placing a huge burden on us as taxpayers and everybody else in the state and we need to call attention to this,” Murphy says. “It’s been 15 years since (the state) increased the tobacco tax.”
Murphy says kids will stop smoking — or won’t take up the habit — if the price for a pack of smokes goes up significantly because of a tax increase.”Everybody has a story about smoking,” Murphy says. He says the top jobs for 18- to 24-year-olds are usually in bars and restaurants, and second-hand smoke in those establishments is a “huge” issue for college students who do not smoke. Governor Tom Vilsack last year called for an 80-cent-per-pack hike in the state cigarette tax, and Lieutenant
Governor Sally Pederson says it will take lots more persuasion to get legislative leaders like House Speaker Christopher Rants to allow a vote on the tax increase. “Last year we all believed that we were going to pass an increase in the tobacco tax and because that was sort of the conventional wisdom, people kind of took their foot off the gas and we didn’t do the hard work that we needed to do…to convince the leadership to let it come up for a vote,” Pederson says.
Attorney General Tom Miller says the students may be able to “prick the conscience” of lawmakers and get them to vote to raise the tobacco tax. “The single-most important thing we can do to cut tobacco use…is to raise the price of the product,” Miller says. According to a doctor who spoke with the students, Iowans spend over 900 million dollars every year to treat and deal with tobacco-related illnesses. House Speaker Christopher Rants says he’s not going to change his mind and allow a vote in the House on a cigarette tax increase. The Senate last year voted to raise the cigarette tax by 36 cents per pack.