2 years after the nicotine sales tax passed, revenue has supported numerous programs to encourage youth health | SummitDaily.com

2 years after the nicotine sales tax passed, revenue has supported numerous programs to encourage youth health

The Vape Take Back program and the Healthy Choices class are supported through the sales tax

Vaportoke in Breckenridge is pictured Wednesday, Dec. 1. The shop sells nicotine products, which have a higher tax attached to them after a tax was passed by Summit County voters in 2019.
Lindsey Toomer/Summit Daily News

In 2019, Summit County voters decided to prioritize the health of the community by passing a nicotine tax that effectively raised the sales tax on cigarettes to $4 per pack. The tax came along with a hefty 40% increase in sales tax for all other nicotine and tobacco products — including e-cigarettes and other vaping devices — which will increase 10% annually for four years through 2024.

Money accrued from the tax helps pay for smoking cessation, prevention and reduction programs around the county. All of the towns plus the county pool the revenue, which can be used for two purposes: The first is to provide specific programming about cessation and prevention, and the second provides lump sums to help sustain the operations of local nonprofits that are helping with this work.

According to Summit County Finance Director Martina Ferris, the tax accrued a total of $2.44 million in 2020. Through September of this year, the tax has accrued a total of $2.35 million. So far, the second part of the tax has dished out $500,000 to the Family & Intercultural Resource Center, $250,000 to the Summit Community Care Clinic and $250,000 to Building Hope Summit County.

The rest of the money was allocated to specific programming led by the Summit School District, Building Hope, the care clinic and Summit County Youth & Family Services, a division that falls under the county’s public health department.

Out of all the programming, Becky Peltier, health promotion and prevention specialist for the county’s Youth & Family Services department, said she believes the community’s Vape Take Back program has been one of the most successful implemented so far. Not only does it encourage people to stop using vape devices, but also it gives them the opportunity to dispose of those devices safely.

“I think a lot of people, and even myself … I didn’t know that you couldn’t just throw away a vape,” Peltier said. “It’s hazardous material — the nicotine and the batteries are hazardous — and so you can’t just throw it away in the garbage. It has to be disposed of properly.”

Through the program, individuals who use a vaping device can exchange it at one of four locations for a voucher for a healthy activity. As of November, the program has collected nearly 600 devices, though some of those account for confiscated devices found at various schools and a handful of youth events.

The program is a collaboration of the county and towns, and many local organizations have contributed to its success: This winter, individuals can redeem their devices for a three-punch pass at the Breckenridge Recreation Center, a one-month pass at the Silverthorne Recreation Center, a six-punch pass at the Frisco Nordic Center or two hours of bowling for four people at Elevation Bowl in Dillon.

During the summer, individuals could receive vouchers for activities such as a two-hour paddleboard or kayak rental at Dillon Marina or a five-punch pass for paddle sport rentals at Frisco Bay Marina in exchange for their device. Peltier said these activities will likely come back next summer, too.

A lot of the other programs offered since the tax passed are focused on youths, too. Part of the reason the tax came to be was because of the work of Summit High School students through the Youth Empowerment Society of Summit. In 2017, students at Summit High School reported high rates of vaping, according to the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. The study — conducted biennially by the Colorado Department of Public Health — revealed that more than 40% of students reported using a vaping device within the past 30 days compared with 27% of students in the rest of the state.

Some of the other measures on which the funds have been spent include:

  • An additional 104 hours of nurse time in various schools within Summit School District
  • Adult training hosted by the school district
  • Tobacco-specialist training for three Summit Community Care Clinic staff members
  • A program coordinator that was designated to lead Building Hope’s youth group called The HYPE
  • 43 events hosted from January through July by Building Hope
  • Healthy Choices, a class offered through Summit Middle School and Summit County. Twenty-four installments have been offered from January through July, and 12 students have participated in each class.

Though all of the towns are contributing to the success of these programs, each is also using some leftover funding for special projects. For example, the town of Frisco spent some of its money on detox recovery resources.

Though it has taken some extra time to get some of these programs up and running due to the pandemic, most programs and any open positions related to the tax have been filled. Robin Albert, department manager for the county’s Youth & Family Services division, said the work that each town and the county has contributed speaks volumes about the community’s commitment to keep individuals healthy.

“I think overall, for our county as a whole, it really brought us all together around a vision and a mission to protect youth and their families,” Albert said. “It created a sense of belonging for kids that really are part of this community because the whole nicotine tax was created out of youth voice and youth concern for youth. And then the adults really learned how to listen and learn from youth. I think there’s so much that came out of it.”

Support Local Journalism

Support Local Journalism

As a Summit Daily News reader, you make our work possible.

Now more than ever, your financial support is critical to help us keep our communities informed about the evolving coronavirus pandemic and the impact it is having on our residents and businesses. Every contribution, no matter the size, will make a difference.

Your donation will be used exclusively to support quality, local journalism.