Iowa’s cigarette tax will go up by $1-per-pack soon. The Iowa House late last night approved the cigarette tax hike after hours of heated debate, sending it to Governor Culver for his signature.
Representative Pam Jochum, a Democrat from Dubuqe, argued it was about saving lives. Jochum cited figures indicating that if the tax goes up one-dollar, 20-thousand adults who are currently smoking will quit. "It will save 5300 current smokers from dying prematurely," Jochum said.
Teen smoking rates will decline by about 19 percent, according to Jochum. "Are they all going to quit? Never claimed (they) would," Jochum said. "…There will be about 38,000 kids today who will never become smokers and who will live a much longer life because of what we’re doing tonight."
Jochum also argued the state would spend less to care for sick smokers. According to Jochum, there’ll be fewer premature births because fewer pregnant women will smoke and there’ll be fewer strokes and heart attacks, too.
Under the bill, about $128 million from the tobacco tax will in time go into a new trust fund to pay for health care, substance abuse treatment and programs that help people quit smoking. Critics in the House objected to that level of new state spending and they tried to get all the money set aside exclusively for helping people quit.
Representative Dave Heaton, a Republican from Mount Pleasant, argued the tax hike will provide benefits to the tobacco industry. "The purveyors of death — they sell these cigarettes…and they kill people," Heaton said. "The biggest killer in our state and you’re handing these people $5 million. I don’t get it."
Representative Lance Horbach, a Republican from Tama, argued the tobacco tax hike hits poor Iowans hardest. "Are the majority of the smokers rich or poor? I’m told that they’re poor — of lesser-means would probably be a better way to describe it," Horbach said. "You take advantage of their addiction to get revenue. Statistically only 10 percent are going to quit."
House Republican Leader Christopher Rants of Sioux City criticized the top Democrat in the House for changing his mind about how high the tax should go. "(You) didn’t see us raising the tax, period and said well, if we raised it, we’d really only raise it between 40 and 60 cents (per pack)," Rants said. "Now, tonight, we’re at a dollar so we’ve really decided we need the dollar," Rants said.
The bill passed just before 11 o’clock on a 58 to 40, with eight Republicans and 50 Democrats on the "yes" side.
Governor Culver issued a statement at 11:30 last night, saying the vote proves "that our state is committed to the well-being of all Iowans." Culver wants to use the extra tax revenue to pay for providing health care to the roughly 50,000 Iowa children who are not covered today.