By Kathy Walsh
DENVER (CBS4)– Supporters launched a campaign to raise the tobacco tax by $1.75 per pack in Colorado on Wednesday. They say the initiative is about creating a healthier Colorado.
If the effort makes the ballot and passes, it will be the first time the tobacco tax has increased in the state in a dozen years.
Right now, some might consider buying cigarettes in Colorado a bargain. The average state tobacco tax is $1.63 per pack. Colorado smokers will pay 84 cents. But supporters of the Campaign for a Healthy Colorado are hoping to hit smokers in the pocketbook.
“Research shows that increasing the cost of cigarettes is an effective way to reduce smoking,” Dr. Debra Dyer, Chair of the Department of Radiology at National Jewish Health told a crowded news conference.
More than 50 organizations are behind proposed Initiative 143 to up the tax on cigarettes in Colorado to $2.59 per pack.
With the average pack at $5.55, the average cost for a pack in Colorado would increase to $8.14. The last tobacco tax increase was in 2004.
“It’s time for Colorado to reclaim its commitment to preventing kids from starting a life-long addiction to tobacco use,” said Jodi Radke, Regional Advocacy Director with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
It will take 98,000 signatures to get the initiative on the ballot. Supporters say they’ve collected 35,000. Their goal is 160,000 signatures in the next five weeks.
“No worries, not one,” said Radke.
Wounded veteran and advocate David Ortiz and others are banking on it.
“Rebuilding a life is a daunting undertaking and I didn’t do it alone,” said Ortiz who suffered a spinal cord injury while deployed in 2012.
It’s estimated the tobacco tax would raise $315 million a year. The money would be dedicated to veterans health care, cancer and Alzheimer’s research, expanded access to youth behavioral health services and more.
“We need to put more money into education programs to stop kids and adults from smoking in the first place,” said Dr. Karyn Goodman, Medical Director of the Cancer Clinical Trials Office at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
The highest state tobacco tax is $4.35 a pack in New York. The lowest is 17 cents per pack in Missouri.