Wednesday, August 5, 2020

CB citizens likely to vote on a new cigarette/nicotine tax

Discouraging more coughers while growing the coffers

By Mark Reaman

It could get more expensive to smoke cigarettes or vape in Crested Butte if you purchase tobacco or nicotine products in town. The Town Council is leaning toward asking voters to approve a new tax on cigarettes and nicotine products sold in Crested Butte this November. They are also considering raising the minimum age of someone buying such products from 18 to 21.

Town finance director Rob Zillioux discussed the issue with the council at the June 17 meeting and said a $3 per pack tax and 40 percent tax on all other tobacco/nicotine products could generate an additional $150,000 to $200,000 for the town annually.

Zillioux had looked into similar taxes imposed in Aspen, Avon and Basalt and said officials there had underestimated the amount of revenue the tax would generate.

“This is a public health issue and this is an effort to discourage kids from starting to smoke,” Zillioux said. “The measure would have to go to the voters but it passed in those other communities with about a 70 percent majority.”

At least one councilman, Chris Haver, has some hesitation with the idea. “I come from a tobacco state, North Carolina, but understand cigarettes are a bad habit. They present a health danger, are costly and, frankly, smell. I don’t smoke and don’t want my kid to smoke. But does it make sense when the purchaser can go a mile outside of town and buy a packet of cigarettes a lot cheaper than in town? And to me, it is simply a sin tax. I’m not sure that doing this in our little town will have the impact we hope. I’m the parent to a child. I’m not interested in being a parent to a neighbor.”

“This is definitely a health issue so I have no problem supporting this,” countered mayor Jim Schmidt. “The town has done a lot of things first before the county or other nearby municipalities. I am uncomfortable raising the minimum age to 21. It has always been a problem with me when someone who is 18 is considered an adult and go to war but can’t drink alcohol or smoke. I’m uneasy with doing that.”

Betty Sue Gurk of the Gunnison County Substance Abuse Prevention Project (GCSAPP), said the organization was in favor of the idea. She cited statistics indicating that higher costs have a direct impact on fewer teenagers starting to smoke or use nicotine products.

Schmidt said he would like to see at least half the newly generated revenue go toward youth education and prevention programs. Town manager Dara MacDonald cautioned against that approach, saying it would tie the hands of future town councils. “It would be better to state the intention as part of the measure but put the money in the town’s general fund,” she suggested.

“I have a lot of pause with this,” restated Haver.

“I sort of look at it as saying that if you want to blow smoke in our community you have to pay extra,” commented councilman Will Dujardin. “I’m in favor of going forward and putting it on the ballot for the citizens to decide. I would really like to hear more from the public about whether or not to raise the age from 18 to 21.”

“The data is clear so I would support raising the age to 21 and adding the tax,” said new councilmember Mallika Magner.

Implementing a license fee like Avon and Basalt does with establishments selling tobacco and nicotine products is up to the council. So is whether to raise the minimum age of purchasers.

The council will continue the discussion at the July 2 meeting with the idea of making a final decision, including the amount of the tax and specific ballot language, before the end of July.

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