Aspen voters overwhelmingly approve $3 tax on pack of cigarettes
The cost of a pack of cigarettes and other tobacco products will increase in the new year after Aspen voters overwhelmingly passed a new tax in Tuesday’s election.
In the unofficial results, 74.59 percent (1,280 votes) were in favor of the tax and 25.41 percent (438) were against.
Starting Jan. 1, there will be a $3 tax on a pack of cigarettes bought in Aspen, with a 10-cent increase annually until the tax reaches $4. In passing Ballot Issue 2B, voters also said yes to a 40 percent hike on all other tobacco products — including cigars, e-cigarettes and chewing tobacco.
The new tax goes into effect on the same day as the city’s legislation raising the tobacco purchase age from 18 to 21 years old. The consumption age remains 18 in Aspen.
Aspen City Councilman Adam Frisch, who was behind the push to get the tax question on the ballot, said Tuesday that increasing the price and hoping it becomes a deterrent to smoking came after the idea to raise the age was suggested by Pitkin County Medical Officer Dr. Kimberly Levin earlier this year.
“This was not hard to sell to the council and it was evidently not a hard sell for the community,” Frisch said.
The tax is expected to collect $325,000 annually and will be dedicated to the city’s general fund. There will be a special line item in the general fund that all tobacco tax revenue be used for “health and human services, tobacco-related health issues, and addiction and substance-abuse education and mitigation.”
There was no organized opposition to the ballot measure leading up to Tuesday’s vote.
“Increasing the price of tobacco directly complements the leadership of Aspen’s City Council to raise the sale age of tobacco from 18 to 21,” Jodi Radke, regional director for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said Tuesday night. “These policies will protect Aspen kids for years to follow. Aspen’s leadership should be commended and will serve as a compass for other municipalities and the state of Colorado to follow their lead.”
In May, the City Council voted 4-0 to raise the age, making Aspen the first government entity in Colorado to increase the purchase age. The city estimates it will lose roughly $75,000 each year in tobacco tax revenue because of upping the age.
“Research shows one of the most effective ways to prevent young people from starting to use tobacco and encourage adult tobacco users to quit is by regularly and significantly increasing the price of cigarettes and other tobacco products,” American Cancer Society’s Colorado government relations director R.J. Ours said in a statement. “Congratulations to the people of Aspen.”
With many lingering questions still surrounding the fate of Aspen’s historic Old Powerhouse, City Council decided during Monday’s work session to hold off on providing staff direction on moving the preservation project forward until more information can be presented.