GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. –The negative health impacts of tobacco products are well documented by organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s why proponents of proposition EE believe a big tax hike on tobacco products can serve to help fix two problems in Colorado. Affordable pre-school education for young children, and dissuading people, particularly teenagers, from using tobacco products in a state like Colorado where 27 percent of teens say they vape.
“Only half the kids who could go to pre-school, do go to pre-school. And it’s largely because families can’t afford to send them,” says Michele Ames a spokes person for Yes on EE. According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, Colorado enrolls only 23 percent of its 4-year-olds, and 9 percent of its 3-year-olds in preschool. “We know that [teens] are particularly price sensitive, so when we raise the prices on these products they will either stop buying, or never buy them in the first place.”
The measure is expected to raise about $176 million in its first full year, and about $275 million a year when the tax is fully phased in, in 2027. In the first 2 and a half years most of the funds would go to fill the budget gap in K-12 education due to Covid 19. After that, the bulk of the money would fund universal pre-school education in Colorado.
“It would create some additional funds in cessation programs for smoking and vaping,” Ames said, listing another source the funds would go to.
But opponents of the measure say proposition EE will disproportionately harm low-income people.
“If we believe that our society would benefit from universal pre-school, why are only 14 percent of Coloradans responsible for paying for it?” asks Michelle Lyng, a spokesperson for A Bad Deal for Colorado. Opponents are also concerned that the tax creates a fixed floor on tobacco products. Written into the bill is a minimum price of $7.50 for a pack of cigarettes by July of 2024. “If the government is going to tell us what to charge, it sets a very bad precedent,” says Lyng.
Proponents say the tax money raised would be reinvested into communities and will be audited yearly to ensure all money is going to where voters directed. But opponents are skeptical. “If our goal is to discourage smoking, why isn’t more of the revenue going to cessation programs?” says Lyng.
Come November 3rd, Coloradans will make the decision on how much tobacco products will cost in Colorado, and if money made from tobacco sales should fund pre-school education.