DENVER – Colorado voters are being asked to increase the tax on tobacco products to raise money for an array of state services.
The constitutional question asks voters: “Shall state taxes be increased $315.7 million annually ... increasing tobacco taxes ... and allocating specified percentages of the new tobacco tax revenue to health-related programs and tobacco education, prevention and cessation programs currently funded by existing constitutional tobacco taxes ...”
The tax on cigarettes would be raised $1.75 per pack. 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, to 62 percent.
In addition to directing funds to “health-related programs and tobacco education, prevention and cessation programs,” the ballot question also directs the additional revenue to other health-related programs.
A “Yes” vote for the ballot question would raise tobacco taxes. The increase would take effect on Jan. 1.
A “No” vote would keep taxes at its current level, which is 84 cents per pack, and 40 percent on the price of other tobacco products. Funding for services and programs prescribed under current cigarette and tobacco taxes would remain intact.
The taxes would not apply to increasingly popular e-cigarettes.
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 collected about $200 million from cigarette and tobacco taxes in the 2015-16 fiscal year. Of the amount, $143.7 million was spent on health-related programs, and $56.6 million on other state and local government programs.
The distribution of funds would include:
Health-related programs, 18 percent, up to $36 million more annually.Research, 27 percent, $92 million.Education and prevention, 16 percent, $55 million.Grants for veterans’ services, 14 percent, $48 million.Grants for child and adolescent programs, 10 percent, $34 million.Construction to community health centers, 10 percent, $34 million. Student loan repayment and training for health professionals, 5 percent, $17 million.Proponents argue that higher cigarette and tobacco prices deter smoking and tobacco use. When taxes were last increased, the number of cigarettes consumed per person in Colorado fell by 12.6 percent.
Supporters also say dedicating the tax revenue to health care and research offsets the burden cigarettes and tobacco products place on the state, such as rising health care costs.
Opponents, however, worry that the tax increase and spending plan would be locked into the state constitution, which would mean that if the programs are ineffective, voters would later have to approve changes to the funding formula.
Another argument against the measure – which also was used in 2004 – is that the tax disproportionately impacts the poor, who are more likely to use tobacco products and less able to afford a tax increase.