The leaders of Iowa’s three largest hospital networks appeared at a statehouse news conference Wednesday to urge legislators to raise the state cigarette tax. Jim Zahnd is vice president for the Iowa Health System which represents 11 hospitals in Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Dubuque, Fort Dodge, Sioux City, Waterloo and the Quad Cities. “We’re here today because an increase in the tobacco tax is good health policy,” Zahnd says. Zahnd says he and the other hospital leaders believe raising the tobacco tax will keep teens from picking up the smoking habit.

Doctor Jean Robillard, dean of the University of Iowa college of medicine, says over 33-thousand Iowa high schoolers smoke today. “They smoke about 11 million cigarette packs a year…and for every 10 cent increase in the cigarette tax, consumption will decrease by about two percent,” Robillard says. “It will save lives.”

Doctor David Kapaska, vice president of medical affairs at Mercy in Des Moines, says prevention is the buzzword in health care today. “As health care leaders, we believe it is our responsibility not only to treat disease, but also to take steps to prevent illness and injury,” Kapaska says. The C-E-O of University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics was also at the news conference to lend her institution’s support to the push for a cigarette tax hike.

Lieutenant Governor Sally Pederson says the three institutions care for over 75 percent of Iowans, and speak with “authority” on the subject of public health. “Together we’re here to demonstrate our united support for increasing the tax on tobacco products,” Pederson says. “The tobacco tax is first and foremost a public health issue.” The legislature isn’t likely to enact a tobacco tax increase this year, however.

While the Senate has voted to raise the tax by 64 cents per pack, House Speaker Christopher Rants says he doesn’t believe a tax increase will dramatically reduce smoking rates.