Tobacco tax and trustees on Carbondale ballot | AspenTimes.com

Tobacco tax and trustees on Carbondale ballot

Thomas Phippen
Glenwood Springs Post Independent
Carbondale Town Clerk Cathy Derby, left, swears in a Roaring Fork High School senior Diego Valdez, right, as student trustee, an honorary position on the town board that has been vacant for several years. “I believe I can provide a different perspective, the youth perspective, to help guide decisions for the betterment of Carbondale,” Valdez said. Grace Jardine, center, was sworn in as an alternate student trustee.
Thomas Phippen / Post Independent

Carbondale may join towns up and down the valley in levying intense taxes on cigarettes and other tobacco-related taxes.

The town will ask voters to approve a $4 tax on each pack of cigarettes at the municipal elections April 7.

“We don’t want to earn more money off of smokers,” said Carbondale Mayor Dan Richardson at the town board meeting.

The money raised will go to smoking cessation programs and other health education initiatives.

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Carbondale has led the region in fighting youth nicotine use, notably pushing to ban sale of flavored tobacco and e-cigarette products at town stores and raising the minimum purchasing age to 21.

At the meeting Tuesday, the board’s new student trustees Diego Valdez and Grace Jardine, both students at Roaring Fork High School, contributed to the discussion.

Valdez said he thinks the increased purchasing age has reduced tobacco use among teens.

“The age aspect has made a difference, just to make it more difficult to purchase these things,” Valdez said.

Jardine said she’s seen a similar effect. “I hear more, ‘Oh, I’m not going to buy this, I have to be 21 now,’” Jardine said.

But if kids are going to purchase tobacco, the increased cost won’t make much of a difference, Jardine added.

Aspen was the first town in the state to impose a version of the aggressive tax in 2017. Basalt followed the following year, and in 2019, Pitkin County, Glenwood Springs and New Castle voters all approved the tax by wide margins.

The Colorado Legislature passed a law in 2019 allowing municipalities to impose taxes, which set off a trend of towns across the state asking voters to approve the new tax.

Most of the towns and municipalities approved a $3.20 tax per pack of cigarettes that will rise 10 cents a year until it reached $4.

But Carbondale is asking voters to go approve the full $4 tax per pack, along with the 40% tax on all other products containing nicotine, including cigars and e-cigarettes.

Under TABOR, taxing authorities must tell voters how much they expect to raise from the tax, and Carbondale put the upper limit at $700,000 annually. Town manager Jay Harrington said that number is much higher than the town actually expects to make from the tax.

The goal of the tax is to dissuade people from purchasing tobacco, but that hasn’t necessarily been the case so far.

“Most communities haven’t seen a big drop-off after they put these taxes in place,” Harrington said.

If voters approve the tax, there won’t be many places to purchase tobacco without paying the tax.

The Board of County Commissioners declined to seek the new tax over concerns about legal authority to do so, meaning that between New Castle to Aspen, only a few stores in unincorporated Garfield County will sell tobacco without the new tax.

The commissioners did, however, increase the minimum purchasing age to 21 and has considered restrictions on flavored nicotine.

Three trustee seats also are on the ballot for the April election.

All six trustees are elected and serve at-large, as there are no districts or wards.

Ben Bohmfalk, Lani Kitching and Marty Silverstein currently hold the four-year terms expiring this year, and all three will be running for reelection.

Anyone interested in running for a seat on the Carbondale Board of Trustees must pick up a nomination form from the town building and return the completed form by Jan. 27.

tphippen@postindependent.com


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