Election 2016: Answers to questions about Colorado’s proposed tobacco tax increase | MyWindsorNow.com

Election 2016: Answers to questions about Colorado’s proposed tobacco tax increase

James Redmond
jredmond@mywindsornow.com

Cigarette butt with ash over white background

Amendment 72 would increase Colorado's cigarette and tobacco taxes and give the revenues to a variety of sources from health and tobacco education programs to a wealth of possibilities that support the medical field.

Proponents say the amendment will save lives, lower health care costs and use the revenues to help communities heavily impacted by smoking and tobacco use.

Opponents call it a blank check of taxpayer dollars being used by special interest groups to lock in funding for pet programs.

To aid voters in making their decision in November, The Tribune researched the answers to five key questions about Amendment 72:

What would Amendment 72 do?

If voters approved Amendment 72, it would increase the state's cigarette tax by $1.75 — on top of the current 84 cent per pack rate — to a total of a $2.59 tax on each pack of cigarettes. The amendment would also increase taxes on other tobacco products 22 percent.

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Revenues from those tax increases would go to some health and tobacco education, prevention, and cessation programs already in place — and funded by the existing tobacco tax. However, revenues could also go long list of other projects including:

» Tobacco-related health research

» Veterans' programs

» Child and adolescent behavioral health programs.

» Construction and technology improvements for qualified health providers

» Educational loan repayment for health professionals in rural and underserved areas,

» Health professional training tracks

The increased taxes are expected to generate an additional $315.7 million in the first year.

However, opponents rebuke those projects saying half of new spending is earmarked for programs that haven't been determined yet.

"Powerful special interests will receive hundreds of millions of dollars with little accountability and virtually no oversight, said Vote No on Amendment 72 spokeswoman Michelle Lyng. "Amendment 72 raises tobacco taxes by $315 million but only allocates less than 20 percent of the new tax money to smoking prevention."

What's the goal of Amendment 72 and would it work?

To save lives and lower health care costs by reducing smoking. In particular the bill aims to stop kids from starting smoking in the first place.

"We know Amendment 72 will work because every major cigarette tax increase that has gone into effect in other states has resulted in lower smoking rates," said Sunrise Community Health President and CEO Mitzi Moran. "It's a proven public health strategy, based on data and recommendations by the Surgeon General, Institute of Medicine and World Health Organization."

Colorado's last cigarette tax increase in 2004 lowered smoking rates, she said. But now the tax isn't large enough to deter smoking and Colorado saw an increase in cigarette sales in 2015 for the first time since the last increase was passed.

Who is behind it?

Amendment 72 came out of the Colorado Lung Cancer Task Force, a group of doctors and health care advocates looking for ways to reduce the harm caused by lung cancer in Colorado.

Those same medical professionals and more than 100 organizations across the state, including Children's Hospital Colorado, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and the American Heart Association joined together in their support of Amendment 72, Moran said.

However, opponents say many groups backing the amendment expect to benefit from the increased tax revenues.

What benefits might passing it create?

It could potentially stop a lot of kids from smoking.

"Based on studies that have been done in other states that have passed cigarette tax increases, we predict that Amendment 72 will prevent more than 34,000 kids from becoming smokers, save over 20,000 lives and save over $1.4 billion in future health care costs," Moran said.

Revenues from the tax increase could mean wider access to new medical treatments and clinical trials for tobacco-related diseases and increased availability of tobacco cessation programs, she said.

With the possible uses for the revenue included in the amendment, passing it could also mean increased access to mental health screenings and treatment for children, more services for military veterans and improved capacity and care at clinics that serve rural and underserved communities, Moran added.

What challenges or difficulties might passing it create?

Amendment 72 has little accountability and virtually no oversight while creating conflict of interest concerns, Lyng said.

The amendment dedicates $315 million in taxpayer dollars to state agencies to distribute grants to pet projects, she said. And making that new spending a constitutional requirement would further complicate the state's already tangled budget.

Additionally the tax hike could increase tobacco-related crimes and smuggling as people leave the state to buy cheaper cigarettes, but the initiative dedicates nothing to help law enforcement, Lyng said.

"Colorado has received more than $1.6 billion from tobacco companies that could be used for tobacco prevention and cessation, but the state has spent most of that revenue on unrelated government programs," she said. "Colorado should spend the tobacco taxes it already collects on smoking prevention and cessation."

Election 2016

This is the third part in an occasional series examining key questions in year’s election. Look for more answers to questions about ballot items including Amendment 69 and Amendment 71 online at http://www.greeleytribune.com/elections.