Activists are activists because they never take no for an answer. Especially when voters shoot down a tax increase, denying them the big pot of other people’s money that they had planned to spend on their pet projects.
In 2016, Colorado voters defeated Amendment 72. It would have raised cigarette taxes from $0.84 to $2.59, exempted the revenue from Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights (TABOR) expenditure limits, and created a slush fund that state public officials could spend on almost any pet project.
Governor Polis does not want to take no for an answer. He wants another shot, and he and his colleagues waited until 7 business days before the end of the legislative session to introduce a bill to set up another vote. Never mind giving legislators on all sides of the issue time to consider the options, give proposals a public airing, hear from expert witnesses on both sides, and consult with their constituents.
Like the old measure, the new measure would raise cigarette taxes to $2.59 a pack. It would also tax vaping devices at 62 percent of their wholesale price. It will provide new opportunities for cigarette smuggling. To save time reviewing the arguments this time around, take a look at the discussion from the last time around on the Independence Institute web site.
Anti-smoking advocates have vaping products in their crosshairs because they are nicotine delivery devices. Nicotine is addictive. They prefer that people not be addicted to nicotine. Other people, who also prefer that people not be addicted to nicotine, think that vaping devices are a useful halfway house for smokers who have tried and failed to quit.
Recent evidence suggests that even if electronic cigarettes are not more effective at helping people quit, they do reduce cigarette consumption. This likely reduces lung damage in smokers because even though electronic cigarette aerosols contain potentially toxic chemicals, recent lung studies suggest that they do less damage than cigarettes and that they reduce some biomarkers associated with exposure to toxicants known to be present in conventional cigarette smoke. Cell cultures also suggest harm reduction.
England has been paying close attention to the effects of electronic cigarettes in its Smoking Toolkit Study. Contrary to fears raised by those who want to treat vaping devices like cigarettes, they find little evidence that electronic cigarettes act like gateway drugs to the real thing. About 32 percent of English ex-smokers report using them, but never smoker use is negligible.
The rush to shove this bill through the legislature suggests that state officials care a whole lot more about more tax revenues than they do about the will of the voters, or the welfare of smokers.
Linda Gorman is director of the Health Care Policy Center at the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.