Summit group pushes steep tabacco tax hike
==========================================QUOTE”Right now, Colorado has the second-lowest cigarette tax in the country.”- Don Parsons, SmokeFree Summit ==========================================DILLON – For the past many months, Dillon resident Don Parsons and his SmokeFree Summit cohorts successfully led the charge to rid Summit County’s bars and restaurants of tobacco smoke. With that victory under his belt, Parsons has turned his attention to statewide tobacco prevention efforts.He and a handful of other residents have been collecting signatures for a statewide ballot measure that would raise the state tax on cigarettes to 84 cents a pack, up from 20 cents.”Right now, Colorado has the second-lowest cigarette tax in the country,” Parsons said. “Kentucky is the only state lower than us. Even in tobacco-growing states like Virginia, the legislatures have the wisdom to be responsible by taxing tobacco products.”Should the Citizens for a Healthier Colorado petition-gatherers collect 68,000 valid signatures, the measure will appear on the statewide ballot in November. If it passes, campaign organizers estimate the tax would bring in about $175 million annually in state revenues. The funds would be allocated to tobacco prevention and cessation programs, health care services for low-income children and community clinics.”That’s fine by me,” said Keystone resident Chris Wanstrath, who purchases about 10 packs of cigarettes each week. “You can’t smoke in the county anymore anyway. It’s a nasty habit, and (a tax) would help me quit a lot faster than a smoking ban.”According to Citizens for a Healthier Colorado, the proposed increase would place Colorado’s per-pack tax at 24th-highest in the country.”I’m not for raising the price of anything,” said Breckenridge resident Amy Small, who also smokes. “But I was just in Chicago, where cigarettes were $5.25 a pack. I’ve never seen cigarettes as cheap as they are here.”According to Parsons, the proposed tobacco tax hike would guarantee funding for tobacco prevention education programs whose dollars have dwindled.”The (tobacco prevention coordinator) position here has definitely changed dramatically in terms of hours,” said Summit Prevention Alliance executive director Jeanie Ringelberg. “With the cuts in tobacco prevention funding, we went from 40 to 20 hours per week. We’ll still concentrate on cessation and being a community resource, but we won’t be able to do as much as we have in the past.”During the last fiscal year, Colorado spent $3.8 million on tobacco prevention and cessation programs. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that the state spend at least $24.5 million, according to Citizens for a Healthier Colorado campaign manager Mike Melanson.”This initiative will bring in $28 million for cessation and prevention, which will bring us above the minimum,” Parsons said.