A coalition of 19 groups is calling on Iowa’s governor and legislators to more than double the state tax on tobacco products. Stacy Frelund, the state government relations director for the American Heart Association, said Iowa’s tobacco tax ranks 29th among the states and hasn’t been raised in a decade.
“Iowa’s tobacco prevention and control program has actually seen significant cuts the last couple of years,” Frelund said this afternoon. “Last year, we had over $1 million that was cut out of that program. and it’s one of the most significant cuts we’ve had in recent years and it’s really changed how a lot of the services are provided in our state.”
Nearly 19 percent of Iowans were smokers in 2014, the last time the smoking rate was measured.
“We’re not seeing very good quit rates in our state,” Frelund said. “It’s been very stalled out when it comes to smoking for both adults and for youth.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control, raising the price of tobacco products is one of the main strategies for reducing smoking rates. Frelund acknowledged raising any tax is “daunting” for politicians, but she argued raising the state tobacco tax by $1.50 would have side benefits.
“Iowa spends about $1.2 billion in annual health care costs directly caused from smoking,” Frelund said. “…That is something to consider as you’re thinking about how this could impact our state.”
Frelund made her comments during a public budget hearing in Governor Kim Reynolds’ office. After the hearing, Reynolds told reporters she hadn’t reviewed the details of the proposal, but she and her staff would examine it.
Groups like the American Cancer Society that have traditionally pushed to reduce tobacco use are part of this coalition supporting the tobacco tax hike, but the coalition also includes eight groups that represent medical professionals. The Iowa School Counselors Association is part of the group as well. Frelund told the governor states with “well-funded” prevention programs are getting results.
“Florida recently reported that its high school smoking rate fell to just 6.9 percent in 2015 and in 2016. That’s way below the national average, so we have states that are making some huge strides when it comes to tobacco control and we’d like to see Iowa get in that line,” Frelund said. “We have seen that kind of result when we did the tobacco tax the last time. We actually had a smoking rate that was down and comparable to Utah, which is lowest in the nation.”
According to Frelund, a $1.50 cent increase in the state tax on a pack of cigarettes, a can of chewing tobacco or a package of cigars would raise more than $100 million in new revenue for the state. She told the governor that money could be used on anti-tobacco programs as well as other health-related programs like obesity prevention and the mental health system.