Garfield County decides against adding tobacco tax |

Garfield County decides against adding tobacco tax

Thomas Phippen
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Devices confiscated over a two-week period at a western Nevada County high school.
Photo courtesy of Val Camp

Garfield County may follow Pitkin and Eagle counties in raising minimum age for tobacco purchases, and will likely implement so-called flavor bans on nicotine products later this fall.

However, the board of commissioners Tuesday declined to move forward with putting a tobacco sales tax on the ballot this November, mainly because of the cost of administering the tax.

Garfield County receives about $30,000 in annual revenue from the current tobacco tax.

To set up the tax system would require a new employee, county staff told the commissioners Tuesday, which could eat into any additional revenue from the higher tax.

“That’s a losing deal,” Commissioner Mike Samson said at a Tuesday meeting.

Glenwood Springs and Carbondale have approved aggressive rules against flavored nicotine products and implemented licensing requirements for retailers.

Eagle, Summit and Pitkin counties have proposed a maximum $4 sales tax on cigarettes and 40% tax on other nicotine products that will go to voters in November. Glenwood Springs and New Castle also are considering implementing the tax, and Aspen passed a similar tax in 2017.

A new law signed by democratic Gov. Jared Polis in March authorizes counties and municipalities to impose special sales taxes on tobacco, but the county has to collect the tax themselves and forgo the state sales tax revenue.

Still, two of the three commissioners voiced their support for a flavored nicotine ban, creating a licensing system for retailers and increasing the tobacco purchasing age to 21.

“We need to raise the age to 21, and we need to regulate flavors,” Commissioner Tom Jankovsky said.

Board Chairman John Martin was less excited about banning the sale of flavored nicotine and increasing the purchasing age, though he is concerned about youth nicotine use.

Martin said he doesn’t want the county to “become the cigarette police,” and said it’s the job of state and federal lawmakers to set the restrictions.

The Roaring Fork Valley has the highest youth vaping rate in Colorado, according to public health officials.

Martin said he’s seen teenagers use nicotine products at area schools, but doesn’t see law enforcement stepping in, as they do with underage alcohol use.

Banning flavored tobacco products and raising the minimum age to 21 won’t reduce teen use as much as people hope, Martin said.

“Where (teenagers) are getting it now, they will be able to get it one way or another. I don’t think it’s our duty to go ahead and regulate it,” Martin said.

The most important thing governments can do is educate youth on the dangers of using vape products, Martin said, comparing it to efforts to combat smokeless and other forms of tobacco.

“We’re going to create a bunch of violators, and the black market is going to profit from it,” Martin added.

Other counties and cities in Colorado are pursuing stricter tobacco laws, but the Roaring Fork Valley so far has the most aggressive policies, according to Jodi Radke, regional director of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.

Changing the rate of tobacco use requires a suite of policies, like the ones being passed in the region, that include the higher purchasing age, licensing, flavor ban and sales tax.

“Any tobacco control efforts takes a combination of policies to be comprehensive, in terms of their approach and producing outcomes, which is why the actions taken in the Roaring Fork Valley are probably the strongest we’ve seen, and probably will yield the strongest outcomes,” Radke said.

Garfield County commissioners will discuss the details of the flavor ban, minimum purchasing age increase and retailer licensing in November.

There are around nine stores in unincorporated Garfield County that sell tobacco products, many located in Battlement Mesa.