2024 Leg Session, Crime, Exclusives, Linda Gorman, Politics, Uncategorized

Gorman: Colorado Senate Bill 22 keeps cigarette smugglers employed

As usual, government never knows when to quit.

Supporters of Colorado Senate Bill 24-022 may think they are protecting people from tobacco. What they are really doing is giving county governments the ability to create jobs for black market smugglers.

The bill lets county commissioners make it illegal for minors to possess cigarettes, tobacco products, or nicotine products. Live in a county without a ban on possession and drive to school in a county with a ban? Better hope Dad didn’t accidentally leave his cigarettes or nicotine lonzenges and gum in the car.

The bill also lets counties reprise Prohibition by completely forbidding the retail sale of “cigarettes, tobacco products, oral nicotine products, including prohibiting the sale of any or all flavored cigarettes, flavored tobacco products, or flavored nicotine product” to adults.

Once people clearly understood the health effects of cigarette smoking in the 1960s, smoking prevalence in the US fell from 42.4 percent in 1965 to 11.5 percent in 2018. But activists haven’t rested on success. They continue pushing states to do whatever they think it takes to drive nicotine exposure rates to zero.

As states are wisely unwilling to ban tobacco product sales, activists now push states to allow smaller units of government to enact bans.

A patchwork of county laws will make life unnecessarily miserable for the 15 percent of Colorado adults who smoke or use e-cigarettes, but happen to live in the wrong county. Special trips to other counties may be required to get their nicotine products. If that isn’t possible, they will have to pay a premium to people willing to do it for them.

These extra miseries will fall disproportionately on minorities, the poor, and other vulnerable people. More than half of Colorado smokers have low social and economic status. According to the Colorado School of Public Health, smokers are twice as likely to have no high school diploma, three times as likely to be disabled, are more often black or lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender, and are more likely self-report mental illness.

These smokers are adults with enough problems. They do not need to have public officials heap more misery upon them.

And the extra misery may serve no purpose. Blanket bans may actually reduce quit rates. Results from a variety of studies strongly suggest electronic cigarettes help people quit smoking regular cigarettes.  Survey data suggest that bans on electronic nicotine delivery system purchases by adolescents increase their regular cigarette use by almost 1 percent. While electronic cigarettes and vaping are relatively new and may have as yet unknown health risks, existing evidence suggests they pose less risk than regular cigarettes.

Bans and high taxes also harm people by creating enormous black market profit opportunities. US cigarettes are routinely diverted from low tax states and shipped to high tax states. A 2012 study of discarded tobacco packages in New York City’s South Bronx showed that 76.2 percent of the discarded packages were untaxed.

By switching consumption to illicit products of unknown origin, bans and high taxes increase the likelihood that smokers consume deadly adulterants. Cigarettes produced in China but sold illicitly in the US have higher lead and cadmium concentrations. Unknown suppliers don’t suffer much reputational harm even if they kill their customers. The 2019 outbreak of e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury that killed at least 68 people seems to have been associated with illegal adulterants in counterfeit cartridges.

County bans will do little to affect the huge global trade in illicit tobacco products. KPMG’s 2022 empty pack survey showed that 30 percent of the cigarettes consumed in France were either counterfeit or contraband. In 2012, Interpol discovered a covert cigarette factory in Sumy, Ukraine, large enough to manufacture 100,000 to 125,000 individual packs a day. In 2011, the FBI reported that it confiscated $40 million worth of counterfeit cigarettes in Operation Smoking Dragon, a project to dismantle a smuggling operation that also offered undercover FBI agents $4.5 million in counterfeit $100 bills and QW-2 surface-to-air missiles.

It is time to treat smokers like adults. Offer help quitting, keep tobacco from kids, and continue helping people understand how smoking harms them.

But free people are free to make both good and bad choices. Choosing to smoke harms individual heath. Passing feel-good laws that create jobs for smugglers harms everyone.

Linda Gorman is director of health care policy at the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.


Our unofficial motto at Complete Colorado is “Always free, never fake, ” but annoyingly enough, our reporters, columnists and staff all want to be paid in actual US dollars rather than our preferred currency of pats on the back and a muttered kind word. Fact is that there’s an entire staff working every day to bring you the most timely and relevant political news (updated twice daily) from around the state on Complete’s main page aggregator, as well as top-notch original reporting and commentary on Page Two.

CLICK HERE TO LADLE A LITTLE GRAVY ON THE CREW AT COMPLETE COLORADO. You’ll be giving to the Independence Institute, the not-for-profit publisher of Complete Colorado, which makes your donation tax deductible. But rest assured that your giving will go specifically to the Complete Colorado news operation. Thanks for being a Complete Colorado reader, keep coming back.

Comments are closed.