Ballot Measure 1A: Voters get a say in raising taxes on nicotine and tobacco products
FRISCO — Over the past several months, the county’s governments have been taking steps to try to curb the amount of nicotine and tobacco usage among community members, including increasing the minimum age to purchase the products and developing new licensing requirements for retailers.
There’s one more initiative that county officials are hoping to pass to further dissuade smoking and vaping, but this time it’s the voters that get to decide.
Election Day is quickly approaching, and community members will get a chance to vote on whether or not Summit County adopts new taxes on all nicotine and tobacco products. The proposal, known as Measure 1A, came together as a result of months of collaboration between the county’s government entities — particularly the county’s public health department and area high school students who composed the Youth Empowerment Society of Summit that lead the push.
“We’re well aware of just how great nicotine and tobacco are as threats to public health,” said Summit County Commissioner Thomas Davidson. “It’s the No. 1 cause of what we term preventable death in America. … So one of the most important things that we should do as a department that’s responsible for the public health of our population is to try and get our community, particularly our youth, to make healthy choices.”
If approved by voters, the measure would impose a $4-per-pack sales tax on cigarettes, along with a 40% tax on all other tobacco and nicotine products — including e-cigarettes and vaping devices — that would start in January, and increase 10% annually for four years.
The proposal comes as a result of House Bill 19-1033, which was signed into law at the state legislature earlier this year allowing local governments to self-regulate tobacco and nicotine sales.
County officials jumped at the chance, hoping to take immediate action to combat the rapid growth in nicotine usage in the county’s youth. According to the 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey — conducted every two years by the Colorado Department of Public Health — Summit High School students reported increases in both cigarette and e-cigarette usage.
“It is a pressing, urgent issue,” Davidson said. “It’s almost spread like wildfire within the last few years.”
In 2017, 16.2% of the students reported ever smoking a cigarette, up from 4.7% in 2015. More than 40% of students reported using an e-cigarette or vaping device in the last 30 days, up from 26% in 2015, and considerably higher than the state rate of 27%. The survey also showed that more than 73% of students thought it was easy to obtain vaping products.
“Kids are especially sensitive to price increases in tobacco and nicotine products, so this tax is one of the most effective strategies available to prevent youth use,” Davidson said. “According to the U.S. Surgeon General, vaping by American teenagers has reached epidemic levels, and Colorado has the highest teen vaping rate in the nation. We urgently need to take action if we’re going to keep the next generation from getting hooked on nicotine.”
The taxes are meant to be sufficient enough to dissuade people from purchasing nicotine and tobacco products. The county is loosely expecting about $3.8 million in revenue in the first year, though given a lack of reliable data on current tobacco and nicotine product sales in the county, that number serves only as the county’s best estimation.
Through an intergovernmental agreement (IGA) between the county and towns, each jurisdiction will have control over its share of the new revenues if the tax passes. Though, Davidson noted that each government has committed to prioritize the revenue to help fund cessation, prevention and reduction programs around the county — along with broader health initiatives.
“In the IGA there’s an agreement to meet annually to plan what we’re doing with those revenues,” Davidson said. “That’s where you’ll see the funding for prevention and cessation programs coming from. After that, each jurisdiction has broadly committed to using additional revenues for health purposes. For example, the towns that have recreation centers can use funding there. You’re also going to see the towns and county focused on some additional revenues that may be pointed to our nonprofits involved in health related programs. … Each will have the ability to look at their community specifically and determine how those additional revenues get directed.”
While the tax may help to make a difference in reducing the county’s nicotine and tobacco use, not everyone is on board, with some smokers and business owners speaking out against the measure.
Some felt that the proposed tax would have minimal affects in mitigating smoking and vaping, or felt the tax was unfairly targeting tobacco and nicotine users.
“I think it would be kind of a rip off,” said Ste-V Day, owner of Smoke N’ Bra in Frisco that sells e-liquids. “I think people will just go back to cigarettes. Vaporizers are already expensive, so if you’re making the juices more expensive people are just going to say, ‘I can spend $25 on a thing of e-juice or a few bucks on a pack of cigarettes.’ Either way they’re going to find something more affordable for them. Smokers are going to smoke no matter what.”
Day noted that the tax likely wouldn’t make a huge impact on her business, and said she’d probably just stop selling any nicotine products if the tax passes. Other business owners, particularly those whose sales largely rely on tobacco and nicotine, are more concerned with the proposal.
“It would be crazy,” said John Cutroneo, owner of Slope Side Cigars in Breckenridge. “I’d be paying way more in taxes than I pay myself. Ultimately everything else that they’re taxing — things that are daily habits that should be broken — I can agree with that. But a 40% tax on cigars will put me out of business.
“It would be a severe tax. The age increase and the additional license fee, even though those don’t seem like a big deal, hurt business a bit. But the tax is what will crush it.”
Others called the proposed tax prejudiced and unfair.
“I’m a smoker and I don’t like it,” said Susan Parks. “None of us like it. I consider it discrimination against smokers. All they’re doing is nitpicking against smokers. Why are they not raising taxes for alcohol? If you’re going to be fair, be fair, but I don’t understand why they’re just picking on the tobacco smokers.”
Still, county officials feel the tax would make a big difference in improving the community’s overall health, and ultimately would serve the greater good.
“None of us want to demonize a person addicted to nicotine,” Davidson said. “It’s one of the most addictive substances out there. I know that I’ve seen comments where people feel like we’re putting a target on their back. I think there’s a commitment that we’ll be compassionate as we provide programs. But I think that we, in conclusion, felt compelled that we’re really going to move the needle with the measure and the level of taxation we’re placing. And after the analysis was done we felt justified in asking voters for approval in the levels we’re asking for.
“The decision at the end of the day was what’s best for the greatest number? And what’s best is to implement a tax scheme that makes the product expensive, because there’s so much evidence-based research that shows it’s an affective way to reduce use.”
Authorizing a special sales tax on cigarettes, tobacco products and nicotine products, including e-cigarettes and vaping devices, for public health, education, and other public purposes.
Shall summit county taxes be increased three million eight hundred sixty thousand dollars annually, and by whatever additional amounts are raised annually thereafter, from a special county-wide sales tax of four dollars per pack of twenty cigarettes sold (or twenty cents per cigarette) and a forty percent special sales tax rate on all other tobacco and nicotine products sold, including e-cigarettes and vaping devices, commencing January 1, 2020, to be used for the protection and improvement of the public health and welfare including, but not limited to:
- Reducing teen vaping through education about the harmful contents of flavored nicotine products that appeal to children;
- Improving the health of the citizens of Summit County and lessening the public health consequences that stem from the use of cigarettes, tobacco products, and nicotine products;
- Providing addiction prevention and intervention programs and referral services that educate and support children, individuals and families to lead healthy lives;
- Providing local enforcement of laws, rules, regulations and ordinances that prohibit the sale of cigarettes, tobacco products, and nicotine products, including vaping devices and e-cigarettes, to underage persons; and
- Improving the availability of affordable public health care services in Summit County, including services at the community health clinic and school-based clinics,
with the special sales tax rate on all tobacco and nicotine products other than cigarettes to automatically increase by ten percentage points per year for four years commencing January 1, 2021, with all expenditures subject to annual financial audit, and shall the revenues be retained and spent as a voter-approved revenue change without limitation or condition under Article X, Section 20 of the Colorado Constitution or any other law?
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