Pitkin County tobacco tax question set for November
Though Colorado voters defeated a statewide tobacco tax increase in 2016, Pitkin County had the highest percentage of support for the amendment of any county in the state.
County health officials are counting on that support in November, when voters will be asked to approve a county tobacco tax increase that mirrors one passed by city of Aspen voters two years ago.
“The purpose of the tax is to reduce use and help people quit,” said Karen Koenemann, Pitkin County’s public health director. “Consistency is the message we’ve heard is the best practice.”
That means county officials want to make the tobacco market in the upper Roaring Fork Valley consistently expensive so tobacco isn’t significantly cheaper in the county as opposed to the city.
If approved by voters Nov. 5, the county’s tax will go into effect Jan. 1 and impose a $3.20 tax on each pack of cigarettes sold in Pitkin County. A 40% tax will be levied on other tobacco products, such as vape pens and chewing tobacco. The cigarette tax will go up 10 cents a year until it hits $4 per pack.
The county can collect up to $700,000 in tobacco taxes, according to the ballot language, which will be put toward tobacco and substance abuse prevention, cessation and education and mental health promotion.
The county’s tax collection estimation contrasts with the city’s tobacco tax collection estimate of $325,000, which turned out to be far lower than the actual amount collected. The city collected $436,600 in tobacco taxes in 2018 and must ask voters in November if it can keep that money because of TABOR limitations. Price increases have been shown to have the largest impact on youth initiation into tobacco use and quitting, Koenemann has said.
Basalt voters in April 2018 passed a $2 tax on a pack of cigarettes and a 40% tax on other tobacco products. Eagle County commissioners also are looking at a $3 to $4 cigarette tax and are planning to ask voters this November to approve it, Koenemann said.
“We’ve really tried to push that consistency model,” she said.
The statewide tax defeated 53% to 47% in 2016 would have imposed a $1.75 per pack tax and a 22% tax on other tobacco products.
Commissioner Kelly McNicholas Kury said she hopes the Pitkin County tax, if approved, will lead all smokers in Pitkin County to quit tobacco for good.
“My hope is we collect zero dollars from this tax eventually,” she said.
Commissioner Patti Clapper said she hopes to continue to mirror the city of Aspen and eventually look at banning flavored nicotine vaping devices and other tobacco-related items and advertising.
The ballot question will be officially adopted after a second reading and public hearing Aug. 28, and will appear on the Nov. 5 ballot.