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SmokeFree wants tax

Julie Sutor
Summit Daily/Reid Williams Summit Cove resident Don Parsons is collecting signatures as part of a statewide drive to propose a constitutional amendment that would restore funding from lawsuit settlements against the tobacco industry.
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DILLON – For the past many months, Dillon resident Don Parsons and his SmokeFree Summit cohorts successfully led the charge to rid Summit County’s bars and restaurants of tobacco smoke. With that victory under his belt, Parsons has turned his attention to statewide tobacco prevention efforts.He and a handful of other locals have been collecting signatures for a statewide ballot measure that would raise the state tax on cigarettes to 84 cents a pack, up from 20 cents.”Right now, Colorado has the second-lowest cigarette tax in the country,” Parsons said. “Kentucky is the only state lower than us. Even in tobacco-growing states like Virginia, the legislatures have the wisdom to be responsible by taxing tobacco products.”Should the Citizens for a Healthier Colorado (CHC) petition-gatherers collect 68,000 valid signatures, the measure will appear on the statewide ballot in November. If it passes, campaign organizers estimate the tax would bring in about $175 million annually in state revenues. The funds would be allocated to tobacco prevention and cessation programs, health care services for low-income children and community clinics.

“That’s fine by me,” said Keystone resident Chris Wanstrath, who purchases about 10 packs of cigarettes each week. “You can’t smoke in the county anymore anyway. It’s a nasty habit, and (a tax) would help me quit a lot faster than a smoking ban.”According to CHC, the proposed increase would place Colorado’s per-pack tax at 24th-highest in the country.”I’m not for raising the price of anything,” said Breckenridge resident Amy Small, who also smokes. “But I was just in Chicago, where cigarettes were $5.25 a pack. I’ve never seen cigarettes as cheap as they are here.”According to Parsons, the proposed tobacco tax hike would guarantee funding for tobacco prevention education programs whose dollars have dwindled in Summit County.

“The (tobacco prevention coordinator) position here has definitely changed dramatically in terms of hours,” said Summit Prevention Alliance executive director Jeanie Ringelberg. “With the cuts in tobacco prevention funding, we went from 40 to 20 hours per week. We’ll still concentrate on cessation and being a community resource, but we won’t be able to do as much as we have in the past.”During the last fiscal year, Colorado spent $3.8 million on tobacco prevention and cessation programs. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that the state spend at least $24.5 million, according to CHC campaign manager Mike Melanson.”This initiative will bring in $28 million for cessation and prevention, which will bring us above the minimum,” Parsons said.Parsons and his band of volunteers have collected about 230 signatures in Summit County so far, with less than a week to go before the July 15 deadline. Melanson said volunteers and campaign staff statewide have collected about 96,000 signatures out of a goal of 110,000.

Anyone interested in contacting Parsons for a petition form can call him at (970) 468-1977, or e-mail him at parsondo@hotmail.com.-Julie SutorJulie Sutor can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 203, or at jsutor@summitdaily.com.


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