Frisco moves forward on proposed nicotine tax, joins Summit County intergovernmental agreement
FRISCO — Officials in Frisco took a major step forward this week in their efforts to address nicotine use in town, hopping on board an intergovernmental agreement with Summit County in preparation for a potential increase in nicotine taxes later this year.
On Tuesday evening, the town council voted unanimously to enter into the agreement, known as an IGA, which essentially would guarantee that Frisco receives a slice of any new revenue collected from the proposed special nicotine tax that’s been in discussion at the county level for months. Councilwomen Jessica Burley and Deborah Shaner were absent from the meeting.
Conversations regarding nicotine use in the county — particularly growing concerns about the use of vaporizers among high school students — have been ongoing for some time. But talks heated up again with the passage of a new bill signed into law in March that allows local governments to implement their own regulations and taxes on nicotine products in their jurisdictions.
A countywide task force formed to tackle the topic in May, and as conversations continue in towns around the county, Frisco is the first to signal its intent to enter into the agreement. Summit County is set to propose a major tax increase on all nicotine products as a local ballot issue in November. If voters choose to approve the measure, it likely would mean a $3 to $4 tax per pack of cigarettes — a considerable jump from the current 84 cent tax — along with a 40% tax on all other nicotine products that would increase every year until it reaches parity with the cigarette tax.
Because it’s a county tax, all revenue collected would go to the county unless the towns within enter into the agreement. Municipalities do have the option of putting their own tax question on the ballot, but if it fails, they run the risk of being left out on county nicotine tax revenue. If the county’s proposal passes, officials estimate annual revenue of $3.8 million throughout the county and about $800,000 in Frisco — likely to be spent on public health efforts.
At the Tuesday meeting, community members arrived to show their support for the new measures.
“As a public health nurse, I believe it is important to implement these tobacco-prevention strategies on the community level to curb addiction to smoking and wean the next generation of users off these products,” said Lauren Gilbert of the Summit County Public Health Department.
Gilbert continued to quote a number of statistics from the most recent Surgeon General’s report on the health consequences of smoking, including that nearly half a million Americans die prematurely from smoking every year and that the economic costs attributed to smoking are around $300 billion for medical costs and loss of productivity.
But the conversation, as it has since the start, largely revolved around nicotine use in the county’s youths.
High school students from the Youth Empowerment Society of Summit also spoke at the meeting, citing anecdotal and data-driven concerns from the most recent Healthy Kids Colorado Survey in 2017. According to the survey, more than 40% of Summit High School students reported using an electronic cigarette in the past 30 days, well over the 27% state average. Additionally, almost 75% of students said it would be very easy to get vaporizer products.
While increasing prices via a new tax is one way of discouraging nicotine use, Summit County Public Health director Amy Wineland said it works best in conjunction with increased age requirements to purchase nicotine products as well as more stringent licensing standards.
“Increased pricing has the strongest impact on all ages,” Wineland said. “Every 10% increase in price decreases the use in those under 18 by up to 15% and those over 18 by up to 7%. Raising the age to 21 is the best approach to address access via social life. It prevents or delays initiation of tobacco use in youth and young adults by 25%. And licensing is another extremely important piece because it lays the foundation for holding those who are selling to underage individuals accountable in our community.”
Potential changes to age requirements and licensing policies would be addressed at the town level through an ordinance later this year. And with Frisco on board with the intergovernmental agreement, conversations in other towns are sure to pick up to decide whether it’s the right move for them. If approved, the new nicotine tax would go into effect Jan. 1, 2020.
“What we’re hoping is that all jurisdictions will come together and work together to implement three very evidence-based strategies — community-level strategies that will have a large impact on all users in our community,” Wineland said.
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