EDITORIAL: Recoup the real cost of tobacco, nicotine addiction: Yes on Prop EE

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Few things in our state and nation are as destructive and deadly as the tobacco and nicotine industries.

Tobacco products are responsible for a stunning half-million American deaths each year. For every person killed by smoking and ingesting tobacco each year, including second-hand smoke, another 30 are seriously sickened.

Millions of Americans are maimed or killed every year by deadly and noxious tobacco products. Every American must share the financial burden of added healthcare expenses attributed to nicotine and tobacco use that top more than $300 billion a year.

It is absolutely appropriate and prudent for Colorado taxpayers to recoup at least some of that outlandish expenditure by taxing those who indulge in these products. A new proposal comes even after generations of campaigns to get them to never start the addiction or to stop if it’s too late.

Proposition EE seeks to raise taxes on tobacco and other nicotine products for the sole purpose of nudging addicts to save their own lives by stopping.  The proposition seeks to help Colorado taxpayers get at least some of the money back these addictions cost all of us.

The proposed new taxes, detailed by state lawmakers earlier this year, would raise the state tax on a pack of cigarettes from $0.84  to $2.64 over six years. It’s a lot. It should be.

Opponents have long argued that taxes on cigarettes unfairly impact the poor, since poorer people make up a disproportionate number of users, and they are less able to pay for higher costs on tobacco products. Arguing equity for a vice that maims and kills while enriching tobacco farmers and companies is nonsense.

What’s unfair is that there isn’t more education on preventing youth from becoming life-long addicts to a deadly habit that costs thousands of dollars a year and ultimately, the user’s health and very life.

There is no safe level of smoking. Moderation can kill and maim in the same way heavy use does. Even being near cigarette smoke is deadly. Studies have shown that as the cost of cigarettes increase, either through market price or taxes, more people quit, realizing they spend large sums of money on a habit that only returns illness and death. The value of the addiction becomes clear as the price goes up. Cigarettes and chew are a poor return on investment when the true cost is applied.

The problem with previous tax hikes is that they have not been large enough, fast enough to compel users to end their costly addiction. Prop EE wisely increases the tax substantially, creating an inarguable reason to cut back and then stop.

The measure also creates a new tax for nicotine vaping products, which currently escape addiction taxes imposed on cigarette and chewing tobacco products. Research on those who use these products is clear. Consumers start by vaping, often as young teenagers, and then often eventually turn to tobacco, sometimes in addition to vaping. And Colorado has one of the highest vaping rates among teenagers in the country.

Vaping products are not only addictive, they’re not without risk. Vaping products can contain toxic metals, in addition to creating respiratory problems from the vaping substances and mechanism. Studies consistently show that nicotine, especially in developing brains, is highly addictive and changes brain function.

Colorado is a progressive state that has long realized prohibition is a useless, failed way to force people to protect themselves from harmful products. Outlawing cigarettes and vaping would only drive it onto the black market. But creating a prohibitive price forces users to evaluate an addiction that costs so much more than what smokers hand over for a pack of cigarettes.

We had hoped state lawmakers would refrain from assigning state recipients of the new taxes collected. We understand this may motivate some voters into action. Prop EE designates new taxes be spent on a variety of causes, early childhood education, public schools, eviction prevention or but a few categories.

Such designations always become problematic down the road. It would have been smarter to simply pour the money into the state’s general fund where our elected representatives can decide best uses as economic and tobacco use conditions change. More money into prevention efforts pay off substantially because the health costs of nicotine addiction are so vast, saddling all of us with higher health care and insurance costs.

The designated pools of money are no deal breaker, however. Recouping money from tobacco and nicotine users that all of us must pony up for is fair and critical to everyone in the state. Vote yes on Prop EE.