Friday, December 13, 2019

Council pulls back on proposed tobacco and nicotine tax

Haver argues for student empowerment instead

by Mark Reaman

Crested Butte voters will go to the polls this fall and decide whether to tax products sold in town that contain nicotine and tobacco.

Such products would get a 40 percent tax increase and a pack of cigarettes would see a new $3 tax. As opposed to the last meeting when council voted to tax anything having to do with such products, including things such as rolling papers, pipes and vape pens, the new tax proposal approved at the July 15 meeting will be limited to products that actually contain tobacco and nicotine.

So-called “delivery devices” will be exempted from the 40 percent tax. That pullback will reduce the tax revenue that was originally expected for town to under $150,000, down from about $200,000. During discussion at the July 15 meeting, the council also indicated it might consider raising the age of people who can purchase tobacco products in town from 18 to 21 years old in the future. It will also embrace a proposal by councilman Chris Haver for the council to actively engage local students to get their input on the best ways to help curb vaping in the school.

Haver adamantly lobbied against taxing cigarettes in town. He again said he felt the town was trying to cure a vaping issue with local youth by broadly taxing everyone who used tobacco. “Again, what is the goal of this?”

“To me, tobacco is a real health problem,” responded mayor Jim Schmidt. “I think it can do some good and that, to me, is the goal.”

“Everything we’ve heard from the experts is that price does discourage young people from trying it,” said councilman Will Dujardin. “So I think the goal is to try to discourage the local youth from using it. In the long term it can be a source of revenue to provide things like community grants for young people.”

“My scalpel solution to the issue is this,” responded Haver. “We have the power to ban vaping tobacco products in town by a vote of the council, right?”

Town attorney John Sullivan said he felt that was probably the case but it would likely be challenged.

“I want to empower the local students and do it before November,” said Haver. “Let’s go to GCSAPP [Gunnison County Substance Abuse Prevention Project] and use them as a facilitator and have us meet with the local students in September in a work session and talk about the idea of banning nicotine vape products. That would go specifically to the problem. I believe if the students lead this, we can have a change not only in this town but also the other towns and in the county. It gives the power to the students.”

“I think we should do that as well as the tax,” said Dujardin.

“I’m not for the tax at all,” said Haver. “I think we’ve been rushing this to get a vote. Focusing on vaping will make the real difference.”

“I agree. If you want to do that, more power to you,” said councilman Paul Merck.

GCSAPP youth coordinator Emily Mirza told the council the best approach to discourage youth smoking and vaping was to use a multi-pronged approach. “The tax is one element, so is raising the age and so is banning vapes,” she said. “Engaging the youth is a positive step.”

Tobacconist owner John Penn reiterated that any big tax on tobacco and nicotine could put his shop out of business. He said vaping products were probably 20 percent of his sales. “As for raising the age, I’m a Libertarian and think when someone turns 18 they are an adult and can make their own decisions. Plus people will just get it online,” he said.

Local mother Robin Lakoski said it is important to address young people vaping. “It’s some scary stuff with the undeveloped brains of young kids who are getting a hold of this,” she said. “I’m on board to getting it out of the hands of our youth.”

“The data is clear that nicotine is harmful,” said councilwoman Mallika Magner. “Anything we can do we should do. I’m on board with Chris’ idea and on board with this new resolution putting it to the voters.”

“If pulling back on delivery devices can get a couple more council people comfortable with proposing this tax, then I can live with that,” said Dujardin, who was fine with the original tax proposal that applied to everything nicotine-related.

Haver tried to get the tax to apply only to vaping pods but no one else on council seconded his motion.

Councilwoman Candice Bradley again stated that the additional $3 on a pack of cigarettes seemed too high. Schmidt again pointed out that it would be up the voters to decide. That vote to increase the town tax on products that contain nicotine and tobacco will take place on November 5. Everyone on council voted to move to the vote except Haver.

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