A new 62-cent per pack federal tax on cigarettes taxes effect Wednesday but most Iowa smokers are already feeling the pinch. Many cigarette companies raised their rates two weeks ago to absorb the tax hike.
It’s prompting more Iowans to call the state health department’s hotline for help to quit smoking. Jeremy Whitaker, coordinator of Quitline Iowa, says, "We’ve seen about a 20% increase the week the prices went up and we hope there’ll be a sustained increase as people realize the cost of smoking is just too high."
The new federal tax increase applies not only to cigarettes, but to all tobacco products, like smokeless and pipe tobacco. It will mean most one-pack-per-day smokers will pay nearly $2,000 a year to smoke.
"Most of the companies already raised their prices so the tax takes effect but companies raised their prices in advance," Whitaker says. "They’ve also been doing a lot of promotions so people don’t notice the price impact quite as much, but when the dust settles from it, most packs will be well over $5. In fact, I saw a pack of Marlboros for over $6 a pack."
Whitaker says the number of smokers in Iowa continues to fall, year after year. In the past two years, he says the number of adult Iowa smokers fell by 22% and is now hovering at just 14%. He says, "There’s actually about 80,000 fewer smokers in Iowa than there were two years ago and our survey took place before the smoke-free air law took effect so we should see a sustained decrease in the number of smokers."
Whitaker says Quitline Iowa offers smokers all the tools they need. "Every Iowan can get up to two free weeks of nicotine patches, gum or lozenges sent to their home absolutely free," Whitaker says. "They also get counseling through Quitline Iowa that can more than double their chances of quitting."
The number to call is 800 Quit-Now. State health officials say smoking costs Iowans about a billion-dollars a year in health care costs.