LETTER: Lawmakers wrong about tax breaks for tobacco industry

EDITOR: Buried in the wrap-ups about the legislative session, underneath the bi-partisan achievements on transportation and redistricting, there’s a real head scratcher: Democrats and Republicans came together to trade away revenue for tobacco cessation programs in favor of a tax break for the tobacco industry. The General Assembly passed Senate Bill 18-179, which makes permanent an excise tax exemption for tobacco companies that sell cigars and loose tobacco online to out-of-state costumers, thus reducing revenue designated for programs to help children and adults from using tobacco. Gov. John Hickenlooper still has a chance to veto this bill — and he must.

Smoking remains Colorado’s leading cause of preventable death and disease. According to the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, health care related to smoking costs Coloradans $1.89 billion annually, and burdens taxpayers with $386.3 million in Medicaid costs, according to www.tobaccofreekids.org. Senate bill 18-179 would only serve to incentivize greater tobacco usage. It is common for the tobacco industry to use price-discounting policies and tobacco-tax exemptions to attract and addict its customers. Colorado’s total excise tax on tobacco products like cigars and pipe tobacco is 40 percent of manufactures’ list price, below the nationwide average rate of 45.5 percent. Information about this tax can be found on www.Colorado.gov/RevenueOnline.

Senate Bill 18-179 would make tobacco cheaper for out-of-state consumers, and its effect would be felt here at home, too. By making this tax exemption permanent, our state would forego thousands of dollars per year that would fund tobacco cessation and education programs and health insurance programs for children. Coloradans voted to approve these exact sorts of taxes and programs in 2004, when they passed Amendment 35. Senate Bill 18-179 cuts funding for these critical programs, which help to reduce the costly burden that smoking has on our health care system.

Although the Legislature already passed this misguided measure, it is under consideration by Hickenlooper. In 2017, we applauded Hickenlooper’s veto of a similar tobacco industry attempt, and we hope he will stand firm this year by vetoing this latest version. We hope this will send a message once and for all that the state cannot and will not permanently shield and subsidize tobacco companies.

Hickenlooper must take the advice of public health advocates, and taxpayers alike, and veto this giveaway to the tobacco industry.

— Jake Williams, executive director, Healthier Colorado, Denver, and Dr. Robin Deterding, medical director, Breathing Institute, Children’s Hospital Colorado, Aurora via [email protected]