Eagle board not burning up over county’s possible tobacco tax
County might impose tax, raise purchase age
EAGLE — Eagle’s town board might go along with a county proposal to increase tobacco taxes but it’s possible it won’t follow suit with raising the minimum age to purchase tobacco.
The town board took its first look at Eagle County’s tobacco tax proposal, and did not like everything it saw.
The Eagle County commissioners are considering a tobacco tax and raising the age to legally purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21 years old.
The county might ask Eagle’s town board and other towns to put a measure on the November ballot. If the Eagle board declines, the town does not get a cut of any countywide tobacco taxes.
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The county commissioners have until Sept. 6 to decide whether to put the question on the November ballot.
Dollars and déjà vu
It’s déjà vu for some Eagle board members, who called it a replay of the county’s marijuana tax package.
“The county is doing to us with cigarettes what they did with marijuana,” Eagle town board member Matt Solomon said. “They’re going to raise the tax and if we don’t get on board we don’t get a piece of the pie. Then we look like jerks to our constituents and it looks like we’re raising the tax.”
Board member Kevin Brubeck likened the proposed tobacco tax to a tax on the poor.
“There is a higher prevalence of cigarette use than other income groups. They also do not have access to cessation plans and benefits. Because they don’t have access to cessation plans they won’t stop smoking. They’ll just be spending more of their disposable income on a tax. It also assumes we think better than they do what they should do with their own time and their own body,” Brubeck said.
Embracing the Benjamins?
“We either get a piece of it or not. Unfortunately, we’re being forced to do this,” town board member Paul Witt said.
The Eagle board may split their ballot question: They would take the money if the tax passes, but they might not raise the legal age to purchase tobacco products in town.
Board members took issue with the “make believe” number of 21 as the age at which it would be legal to purchase tobacco products.
“I hate telling someone that at 18 they can go to war and get shot, but they can’t smoke a cigarette,” Brubeck said.
Avon, Basalt, Aspen tax tobacco
Last year, Avon raised the legal to purchase tobacco products, as did Basalt with its tax of $2 per pack of cigarettes and 40% to the cost of other tobacco products. Aspen levied a $3 tax on cigarettes. Aspen’s tax will increase 10 cents a year until it reaches $4 a pack. Aspen’s tax increase will also cover cigars, chewing tobacco and e-cigarettes.
Vail is also considering a tobacco tax and raising the minimum age to buy tobacco to 21.
The tax increase could be one way to slow the growth of vaping, Kris Widlak, Eagle County’s communications director said.
“Vaping is on the rise in Eagle County and everywhere else,” Widlak said.
A state government study found that an estimated 27 percent of Colorado minors use the devices.
Right now, taxes comprise 40% of the price of tobacco products in Colorado, according to the state Department of Revenue. That gives Colorado the nation’s 38th highest tobacco tax.
Federal taxes add $1.66 to a pack of 20 cigarettes. States charge an average of $1.73, ranging from $4.35 a pack in Connecticut and New York, to 17 cents in Missouri.
Chicago levies the country’s highest tobacco tax at $6.16 per pack, a combination of local, state and federal taxes.
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It’s fitting that Eagle County is proceeding through its reopening phases of COVID-19 in an analogy to ski run difficulties — green to blue to black. Monday marks the transition from the green beginner phase to the blue intermediate phase.