Tobacco Tax

Pitkin County commissioners listen as public health director Karen Koenemann and county medical officer Dr. Kimberly Levin present information about a proposed tobacco tax during Wednesday’s meeting.

Pitkin County commissioners on Wednesday passed a resolution to place an item on the Nov. 5 ballot that asks voters to implement a local tax on cigarettes and other tobacco products.

The proposal seeks a local tax of $3.20 on each pack of cigarettes starting in 2020, to escalate by 10 cents each year until the tax reaches $4, according to Karen Koenemann, the county’s public health director.

The resolution also calls for a tax of 40 percent on the retail price of all other tobacco products, such as vaping products, e-cigarettes and chewing tobacco, she said.

Over the last few weeks, Koenemann and Dr. Kimberly Levin, the county’s medical officer, have been providing information to commissioners about the health dangers associated with smoking and the local rise in tobacco use among youths. At the commissioners’ regular meeting on Wednesday, Levin reiterated that studies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that price increases are the greatest deterrent to youth initiation of tobacco use.

“What we found is that a tax on tobacco and nicotine products has the most significant impact on youths,” Koenemann said. “Data and research have shown that with price increases, people are less likely to take up the product to begin with, or if they are already using, it’s sometimes an extra motivation to quit.”

City of Aspen and town of Basalt voters have passed similar increases on tobacco and nicotine products in recent years. But those initiatives resulted in over-collection of tax revenue, running afoul of the state’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR. Pitkin County’s resolution seeks to avoid the TABOR issue by overestimating the amount of revenue that officials believe will be generated.

“We overinflated the number we believe will be collected and said in the resolution it would be no more than $700,000,” Koenemann said. “We looked at what Basalt collected and Aspen collected and came up with a general estimate of $350,000, and then we just doubled that.”

Koenemann said related measures, such as raising the minimum age for legal tobacco purchases from 18 to 21 and a ban on flavored tobacco, will be proposed to commissioners in the near future.

The resolution passed unanimously on first reading. Second reading is set for commissioners’ regular meeting on Aug. 28, and public comments will be accepted. No one spoke against the resolution during Wednesday’s meeting.

Andre is a reporter for Aspen Daily News. He can be reached at andre@aspendailynews.com.