DENVER — The Campaign for a Healthy Colorado wants to add $1.75 to a pack of cigarettes. In order to get the initiative on the ballot, it needs roughly 98,000 signatures. Currently, it has about 70,000 signatures.
“The purpose of the tobacco tax increase is to decrease the likelihood that kids will smoke,” said Dr. James Fenton, a pulmonary physician for National Jewish Health and campaign supporter.
Colorado has not increased its tobacco tax since Amendment 35 in 2004. It increased the tax from 20 cents to 84 cents. In 2015, cigarette sales increased for the first time in Colorado since Amendment 35 was passed.
“It’s absolutely a red flag,” Fenton said. “We are concerned about the uptick in cigarette sales in Colorado last year. We think that may be a trend and we hope that is not the case. The tobacco tax increase should help us decrease the likelihood that is a trend.”
Colorado ranks 38th for cigarette tax. If this initiative were to pass, Colorado would rank 10th in the nation with a $2.59 cigarette tax.
“The increase of 84 cents in 2004 only brought us up to the national average and then we quickly fell behind other states in the decades following,” Fenton said. “We want to stay a little bit ahead of that moving forward.”
Those against the initiative include Kathy Trail, a manager at Smoker Friendly on Broadway in Denver.
“Raising the tax on us is not going to make anybody stop,” she said. “Let us do what we want to do as long as we’re not harming or hurting anybody.”
Trail also mentioned that people from other states frequent her shop because cigarettes are cheaper in Colorado than most states. However, she says it wouldn’t be fair to raise the tax here.
“Other states have probably better revenue than we have and wages are much better than ours are here so don’t hit us below the belt so we can’t afford the luxuries we feel are a luxury to us,” she said.
The average national price of a pack of cigarettes including tax is $7.28. Colorado smokers currently pay about $6.49. The tax increase would price a pack of cigarettes at $8.24 in Colorado.
The Campaign for a Healthy Colorado says it should know if its initiative will make the November ballot by the end of August.