We Coloradans often tout ourselves for being one of the healthiest states.
Number one in physical activity, second lowest in diabetes prevalence, seventh overall healthiest state, and the list goes on.1 There’s no doubt that we should be proud of these accomplishments, but I just learned we’ve got a whole lot of improving to do on tobacco.
Nationally, Colorado is a surprising outlier.
Our cigarette sales are actually increasing, opposite of the national trend.
Between 2014 and 2016, Colorado saw an overall increase of 7 million more packs of cigarettes being sold, while nationally the Center for Disease Control reported a 2.5% decrease.2
Whether you’re a smoker or not, we’re all paying for the proliferation of tobacco use in our state.
First, the monetary costs associated with smoking are astronomical, with health care costs in Colorado caused by smoking at $1.89 billion a year.3
Even more alarming is the fact that Colorado kids are experiencing an uptick in tobacco use and are targeted as potential smokers by tobacco companies. We rank higher than national averages in high schoolers who use e-cigarettes (26.1% vs 11%), smoke (8.6% vs 8.0%), and in a few other tobacco-related categories as well.3 It’s projected that 91,000 Colorado kids currently under 18 will ultimately die prematurely due to smoking.3
All the while, tobacco companies are still pouring in an estimated $130.1 million in marketing and advertising just in Colorado alone, and they are specifically targeting kids.
Just those facts and stats are wild enough, but there is an additional factor that makes Colorado an outlier.
We don’t license the sale of tobacco.
This is extremely odd, especially given that we license, tax, and heavily regulate marijuana and alcohol on both a local and state level. Yet when it comes to tobacco the state lags behind and even takes active measures to ensure that localities don’t impose any of these of these measures.
This brings us to Senate Bill 139, which was just introduced and killed (yay!) this 2018 legislative session. This was a bill introduced to create a state licensure requirement for those who sell tobacco products, which initially sounds fantastic, but you only have to scratch the surface of the bill to see it was a farce of a program. For one, the funding for the program would have been pulled from the tobacco prevention, education, and cessation funds, while requiring no fee for retailers to obtain the license. As well, the licenses wouldn’t have been suspended or revoked even if a retailer was caught repeatedly selling tobacco to minors in a given period.
The bill also would have applied even further restrictions on local governments looking to impose a license, fee, requirement, or tax on retailers or tobacco. You might be sensing a trend here.
Enough people saw through the smokescreen that we could put the kibosh on this bill. However, we still have a lot more to do.
There are a couple of easy and sensible actions we can take.
- First, we can remove the statute that financially penalizes cities and counties who want to impose a fee, tax, or regulate tobacco or tobacco retailers.
- We also desperately need a legitimate licensure program. We should model a tobacco licensure program on marijuana’s and alcohol’s, whose licensing programs work efficiently and collaboratively with local and state governments. We at Healthier Colorado recently surveyed likely 2018 general election voters, and asked if they would support this very licensure system. More 62% of agreed.4
- It’s also time to raise the tobacco purchase age to 21. More than 285 localities and five full states have already done it.5 It’ll reduce tobacco usage among kids and have immediate and long-term benefits for health and related costs.6 In that same survey we conducted, we asked if folks supported in same manner we regulate alcohol and marijuana by increasing the purchase age to 21. The support is overwhelming, with 72% of agreeing. Raising the age and taxing tobacco more heavily will deter young Coloradans from purchasing tobacco products and help kids never start smoking.
In our own state, communities including Aspen are leading the charge on tobacco 21 laws and placing taxes and regulations on tobacco.
In 2017, Aspen residents voted by a nearly 3-to-1 margin to approve a $3 per pack city tax, raising the purchase age to 21, and requiring retailers to pay a one-time licensure fee of $500 dollars.7 The city of Basalt is also voting on a similar tobacco tax and age increase in spring 2018.
Let us not wait any longer to make a statewide change.
The consequences are already hitting home and we owe it to Colorado kids. It’s high time to reverse our trends. It’s high time to regulate, tax, and license tobacco in like we do with marijuana and alcohol, and strive to keep tobacco products out of the hands of the next generations of Coloradans.
Pledge to be a part of the fight for smarter tobacco laws in CO
- Colorado Department of Public Heath and Environment (January 2018) Colorado Still the Least Obese State | Retrieved from: www.colorado.gov/pacific/cdphe/news/2018-state-health-ratings.
- Garrison, Robert (June 14, 2017). Colorado Bucks National Trend as Cigarette Sales Light up for 2nd Year.” Retrieved from: www.thedenverchannel.com/news/local-news/colorado-bucks-national-trend-as-cigarette-sales-increase-for-2nd-year.
- Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (Nov 17, 2017). The Toll of Tobacco in Colorado. Retrieved from: www.tobaccofreekids.org/problem/toll-us/colorado
- Healthier Colorado (January 2018) Healthier Colorado Survey of LIkely 2018 General Elections Voters Topline Results
- Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids (January 2018). States and Localities that have Raised the Minimum Legal Sale Age for Tobacco Products to 21. Retrieved from: https://www.tobaccofreekids.org/assets/content/what_we_do/state_local_issues/sales_21/states_localities_MLSA_21.pdf
- Institute of Medicine of the Academies (March 2015). Public Health Implications of Raising the Minimum Age of Legal Access to Tobacco Products. Retrieved from:http://www.nationalacademies.org/hmd/~/media/Files/Report%20Files/2015/TobaccoMinAge/tobacco_minimum_age_report_brief.pdf
- Carroll, Rick. (January 2018). New $3 Aspen Tobacco Tax, Age Hike Take Effect for New Year. Retrieved from: https://www.denverpost.com/2018/01/01/aspen-tobacco-tax-legal-age-cigarettes-2018/