Measure 1A: Summit voters take stand on nicotine and tobacco, pass new tax

Summit County residents vote Tuesday, Nov. 5, at the Silverthorne Pavilion.
Liz Copan /

FRISCO — Tobacco is about to get a lot more expensive in Summit County.

In a middling turnout for Election Day that managed about 8,700 voters, Summit County residents took a massive step forward in their efforts to combat nicotine and tobacco use in the area. Residents overwhelmingly voted to pass a new tax that officials hope will help to price the harmful products out of use and improve the overall health of the community.

The ballot measure, known as 1A, will increase the sales tax on cigarettes to $4 per pack, along with a hefty 40% increase in sales tax for all other nicotine and tobacco products — including e-cigarettes and other vaping devices — that will increase 10% annually for four years through 2024.

For officials, the move was important in helping to ensure a healthy and vibrant community moving forward.

“The most important thing we know is that this is one of the most effective ways to get people, especially youth, to reduce their consumption of tobacco and nicotine products,” Summit County Commissioner Thomas Davidson, an outspoken proponent of the measure, said following the election. “Study after study has shown that increasing the cost of these products is the most effective way to reduce use.”

Community members largely seemed to agree. The measure passed with about 73% of the vote, with 6,321 voters coming out in favor of the new tax compared with 2,292 opposing it.

Summit County wasn’t the only Western Slope community seeking to pass a similar measure on their ballots. Pitkin and Eagle counties also put nicotine and tobacco taxes to a vote along with Glenwood Springs and New Castle. Results indicate those counties and towns will pass their measures, as well.

In Summit County, the new tax will go into effect Jan. 1, and consumers will see the first 10% bump Jan. 1, 2021. According to county estimates, the tax is expected to pull in an additional $3.8 million in revenue throughout the county in the first year. Though, officials say creating a new revenue stream isn’t the main goal of the tax, and the hope is that revenue will continue to fall as nicotine and tobacco users drop the habit.

The new funds have been prioritized to help pay for smoking cessation, prevention and reduction programs around the county. Earlier this year, Dillon, Frisco, Breckenridge and Silverthorne all entered into an intergovernmental agreement with the county that gives each individual jurisdiction control over the tax revenue collected there, each agreeing to use the money to fund broad health initiatives.

“The bonus of doing things this way is there will be revenue the towns and county will each have to provide funding for prevention and cessation programs, and that means a healthier Summit County,” Davidson said. “The funding has been approved by a wide margin. The next thing you’ll see us do is go to work developing these programs. … That’s all to come, and now that work gets to begin in earnest.”

The new tax comes as a result of a bill that passed through the state Legislature earlier this year allowing local counties and towns to self-regulate tobacco and nicotine sales independent from state regulations.

Officials around the county took the opportunity in stride, hoping that an increased tax rate would prove a big enough thorn in the side of smokers, chewers and vaporizer users to force a change in behavior.

It was the county’s youths who served as the motivation and driving force behind the greater anti-smoking movement in the area. In 2017, students at Summit High School reported troublingly 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.

It was also Summit High School students with the Youth Empowerment Society of Summit — along with representatives with the county’s public health department — who helped lead the push for further enforcement and taxation by heading to county commissioner and town council meetings to spread their message.

But the tax is only the most recent in a number of other initiatives the county’s government entities have taken over recent months to check nicotine and tobacco use in the area. The county and the towns all recently passed ordinances to further restrict use, including increasing the minimum purchase age for all nicotine and tobacco products from 18 to 21 years old and adding new licensing requirements for retailers throughout the county, which also outline new enforcement policies.

And while a majority of voters came out to support the measure, it’s worth noting that there also were dissenters for the new tax, particularly among smokers and business owners who rely on nicotine and tobacco sales. Though officials, along with voters, ultimately felt the potential health improvements were for the community’s greater good.

“I’m so proud of the voters of Summit County because there are a lot of organizations across the state looking at Summit tonight and saying that our county is going in the right direction,” Davidson said. “And that those voters just did a really great thing.”

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