Colorado voters are being asked to decide on a measure with important public health implications this election season. Amendment 72 proposes amending the Colorado Constitution to:
- increase the state tax on a pack of cigarettes from $0.84 to $2.59;
- increase the state tax on other tobacco products from 40 percent to 62 percent of the price; and
- distribute the new tax money for medical research, tobacco-use prevention, doctors and clinics in rural or low-income areas, veterans’ services, and other health-related programs.
Studies show that increasing tobacco prices is one of the most effective ways to get current smokers to quit and to prevent new users, especially kids. When cigarette taxes were last increased in 2005, the number of cigarettes consumed per person in Colorado fell by 12.6 percent. Tobacco use is a leading cause of preventable diseases like cancer, and heart and lung disease, contributing to 5,100 deaths in Colorado per year.
Colorado’s current cigarette tax is well below the national average of $1.65 per pack. If Amendment 72 passes, Colorado would go from the 14th lowest per-pack tax in the nation ($0.84) to the 11th highest ($2.59).
This new tax would not include e-cigarette products.
Amendment will raise about $315 million a year by increasing the tax on cigarettes by $1.75 per pack and increasing the tax on other tobacco products like cigars and chewing tobacco by 22%. The funds would be dedicated as follows:
- $92 million for Colorado-based research to prevent and improve treatments for cancer, heart and lung disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and youth mental health
- $48 million for medical and mental health care for 500,000 Colorado veterans
- $34 million to increase access to health care in rural and underserved areas
- $34 million to expand access to youth behavioral health services
- $54 million to meet the recommended funding levels by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for tobacco education, prevention, and cessation programs for Colorado’s youth and adults
- $17 million to provide training and repay student debt for medical professionals in rural and underserved areas
- $36 million to current tobacco tax-funded programs, compensating for expected reductions in tax revenue due to lower tobacco use in the future
Amendment 72’s proponents include a wide array of health organizations, including the American Cancer Society, American Lung Association, American Heart Association and Colorado Medical Society. The opposition to Amendment 72 is being headed by a committee calling itself No Blank Checks in the Constitution, funded by tobacco companies. This group argues that Amendment 72 would unnecessarily lock $315 million into constitutional spending with little-to-no accountability or oversight.
In addition, the tax increase will have a disproportionate impact on low income individuals. About 30 percent of Colorado adults making less than $15,000 are smokers. However, the tax revenues support Health First Colorado (Colorado’s Medicaid program), which is required by the Affordable Care Act to provide smoking cessation services to its members.