DENVER – Colorado voters this November could be faced with a ballot question asking them to increase the tax on cigarettes by $1.75 per pack.
The Campaign for a Healthy Colorado announced its plans Wednesday at a news conference at National Jewish Health in Denver during which more than 50 organizations expressed support.
“We firmly believe that one of the most important things we can do to improve the quality of life in Colorado is to decrease smoking,” said Dr. Debra Dyer, chairwoman of the Department of Radiology at National Jewish Health, and a lead proponent. “This initiative is about creating a healthier Colorado for future generations.”
The proposed question would raise an estimated $315 million in the first full year of implementation.
Funds would be directed to an array of services, including cancer, heart and lung disease research; programs for veterans; mental and behavioral health; rural health care, and tobacco education.
The total tax on a pack of cigarettes would increase to $2.59 per pack. The question also would increase the tax on other tobacco products, such as cigars and chewing tobacco, by 22 percent.
Proponents are using paid and volunteer petition signature gatherers to collect the 98,492 valid signatures required to make the November ballot. They have until Aug. 8 to do so. The coalition said they have collected about 35,000 signatures.
The initiative does not tackle electronic cigarettes, which have been gaining in popularity, despite the health community’s concerns.
The last time Colorado voters raised taxes on cigarettes was in 2004, when the electorate approved increasing the tax from 20 cents to 84 cents. That measure doubled the tax on other tobacco products from 20 percent to 40 percent of the price.
Colorado ranks 38th in the nation for the tax amount on tobacco. The national average is $1.63 per pack of cigarettes.
The tobacco industry is likely to oppose the higher taxes. When the issue was debated in 2004, concerns were raised around causing additional hardships to low-income families.
People living in poverty tend to be more likely to smoke than those not living in poverty, according to numerous research studies. These low-income people would feel the brunt of the tax increase, which would take a larger bite out of their budgets than wealthier people.
Opponents also point out that there is no guarantee that smokers would benefit from the additional revenue, which means they would be paying a higher tax without seeing the benefit of the influx of money.
The tax question would compete with a host of other proposed ballot items. Only one issue is on the ballot, which would create a single-payer health care system, but proponents are out collecting signatures for a long list of other issues, which could cause voter fatigue.
“This is a tax that the voters understand, they have a history with and a familiarity with, and a trust with,” said Jodi Radke, regional advocacy director for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. She noted that there’s widespread support and believes “this one will stand out.”