Eagle County’s new tobacco tax goes into effect in the new year
Tax estimated to bring in $1 million next year for cessation, youth outreach and other programs
EAGLE COUNTY — Starting Wednesday, it’s going to cost a lot more to purchase cigarettes and other tobacco products in Eagle County.
The county’s voter-approved tobacco-nicotine product tax will go into effect on Jan. 1. The tax will be charged by retailers who are located in unincorporated areas of the county. If a retailer is located within a municipality and that town has already enacted a tobacco-nicotine sales tax, the municipal charge will be imposed rather than the county charge. If a municipality has not enacted a tax, the county tax will be imposed.
With collections set to begin, Eagle County officials are still working on their plans for how to allocate the money. Earlier this month the Eagle County commissioners gathered for a special work session to discuss the issue.
“As of right now, we are anticipating collections of $1 million in tobacco tax in 2020. That is our best guess,” said Rebecca Larson, deputy director of Eagle County Public Health and Environment. “It is probably a conservative guess.”
County officials have been outspoken about their ideal scenario for the tobacco tax funding. They hope that 2020 marks the highest tax collection because the ultimate goal isn’t to bring in money — but rather to get people to stop using tobacco and nicotine products.
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In that vein, the majority of the anticipated tax funding will be allocated to cessation efforts.
Larson noted that county representatives have begun discussions with various community groups to formulate the cessation effort. She noted that local governments will have to do the heavy lifting.
“The state really hasn’t done a great job around awareness in rural Colorado areas,” Larson said. “Many of our residents aren’t even aware there are resources available to them or what that means.”
Colorado operates a tobacco-nicotine quitline program and Larson noted some of the tax funding will be allocated to make sure residents are aware of that service. The county will allocate $250,000 toward cessation awareness with projects including ECO bus wraps and a media campaign.
The growing popularity of vaping among local teens was a major impetus for the tobacco tax effort. Correspondingly, a good chunk of the anticipated funding will go to youth services.
Nearly half — $400,000 — of the proposed budget has been earmarked for youth programs.
“This is something that everyone feels strongly about — let’s be thoughtful about the programs with youth,” Larson said.
Larson said the county hopes to work with school-based mental health counselors on its youth cessation efforts.
Mandy Ivanov, Eagle County health promotion coordinator, said one program will be a vaping device take-back campaign for local kids. Similar programs have been piloted on the Front Range.
“The theme is ‘Break up with Nic,'” Ivanov said. “It raises awareness for kids who do want to turn devices in, and then we have a way to dispose of devices safely.”
Once students hand in devices, they will be connected with quitline programming and local officials hope to launch peer support groups at both high schools. Kids who sign up for programs will have their names entered in a drawing to win prizes.
“That’s the bait for them to get the information,” Ivanov said.
Larson said the county will also partner with valley youth organizations to help leverage its cessation messages.
“There really isn’t a playbook for this, especially related to youth. We are all figuring it out as we go,” she said.
Commissioner Kathy Chandler-Henry asked if the programming will include family services.
“I was just thinking of the mom who testified (during county hearings prior to the tobacco tax election) and said she was looking at this as a discipline issue rather than an addiction issue. Understanding the dynamics of it for the family could be important,” said Chandler-Henry.
Ivanov noted that increased parent outreach is planned in the spring, with a bonus Eat Chat Parent session planned to focus on vaping. Additionally, Ivanov noted that local schools have embraced the idea that vaping incidents need to be approached as an addiction problem as well as a behavior issue.
As the new programming begins in 2020, Eagle County will have neighboring allies. Summit County, Pitkin County and Glenwood Springs will also institute programs next year.
“We are very excited about a unified campaign,” Larson said.