County eyes steep tobacco tax, raising purchase age to 21 | VailDaily.com

County eyes steep tobacco tax, raising purchase age to 21

With survey results anticipated Monday, commissioners will discuss tobacco tax election and upping purchase age at Tuesday hearing

The Eagle County Board of Commissioners will debate a pair of tobacco issues Tuesday — a proposal to raise the purchase age to 21 and a ballot question that would enact a steep tobacco products sales tax in the county.
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EAGLE — On Sunday, Eagle County’s survey regarding tobacco use closes. On Monday, the Eagle County Board of Commissioners will review those results. On Tuesday, the commissioners will hold a public hearing to discuss a November ballot issue seeking voter approval to substantially increase sales taxes on cigarettes and tobacco and nicotine products.

Yes, this is all happening rather quickly.

On Tuesday at 10 a.m. the commissioners will discuss two resolutions. The first resolution would raise the minimum age for purchasing tobacco and tobacco products to 21 and establish a licensing program to regulate the sales of cigarettes, tobacco products and nicotine products.

The second resolution would refer a question to Eagle County voters asking for approval to increase taxes on cigarettes and tobacco and nicotine products. The new sales tax would be $4 per pack for cigarettes and 40% on other tobacco and nicotine products.

The hearing is slated to begin at 10 a.m. at the Eagle County Building in Eagle and there will be time provided for public comment. Both resolutions are available for review at http://www.eaglecounty.us/Commissioners/Commissioner_Meetings/Agendas.

Moving quickly

Within Eagle County, the towns of Avon and Basalt have already increased the minimum age for purchase to 21 and added taxes to tobacco and nicotine products. Pitkin and Summit counties are considering similar measures. If approved by voters, Eagle County’s tax would not apply in jurisdictions with an existing tax without an intergovernmental agreement. 

“This issue really came from our public health department and the youth of our community asking us to do this,” said Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney.

She noted that a group of local youth who recently participated in the Family Leadership Training Institute identified an anti-smoking/vaping effort as its project.

“They really found their voice on this. They are the ones who spoke to the Avon Town Council and got them started,” McQueeney said.

“The growing prevalence of vaping caught everyone by surprise,” McQueeney continued. “A year ago we weren’t talking about this. It has overtaken our community so quickly.”

Steep taxes

If they approve the resolution Tuesday, the county will be sending a steep tobacco sales tax question to the voters.

In its last session, the Colorado Legislature approved a bill giving Colorado’s counties, cities and towns expanded powers over the sale of nicotine products in their individual jurisdictions. One of the provisions allows for tobacco tax elections.

“This is happening quickly every place,” said Chandler-Henry.

She noted in neighboring Summit County, the tax proposal is even higher than in Eagle County. The Summit County proposal calls for a 40% tax on all nicotine products that would increase every year until it reaches parity with the 84 percent cigarette tax.

Chandler-Henry noted that smoking cessation products — such as nicotine patches, gum or drops — would be exempted from the tax. Additionally, cessation products are available at no cost through Eagle County public health.

Money raised through the county’s tobacco tax would be allocated to public health efforts, specifically to addiction services.

Raising the Age

The county commissioners don’t need voter approval to enact the other tobacco prevention measure. On Tuesday they can enact the resolution raising the minimum age for purchasing tobacco and tobacco products to 21.

“There are lot of statistics out there about how much more likely people are to become addicted if they start using nicotine as teenagers,” Chandler-Henry said.

One of the arguments against raising the minimum age for tobacco products is a civil rights concern. Youth age 18 are deemed old enough to vote and serve in the armed forces.

“I think 21 is a reasonable age (for tobacco purchases),” Chandler-Henry said. “There are pretty high consequences for addiction to tobacco. I think the public health concern trumps that (civil rights argument).”

Chandler-Henry said early results from the county’s tobacco use survey show strong community support for raising the age for tobacco purchases. The preliminary survey results have 72% of respondents favoring the action.