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Tobacco prices going up from Aspen to Vail

Jason Auslander
The Aspen Times

Thanks to groundwork laid by the city of Aspen two years ago, most areas from Aspen to Vail will pay significantly more for tobacco products as of midnight today, an official said Tuesday.

“We’re super excited to see how this will play out,” said Karen Koenemann, Pitkin County’s public health director. “Certainly we’re hoping … that implementing the tax is the most effective thing we can do to cut down on (tobacco) initiation and use.”

Pitkin County voters in November passed a tax that adds $3.20 to the price of a pack of cigarettes, with an annual 10-cent increase until the tax reaches $4. Other tobacco and nicotine products will be taxed at 40%.

Research has shown that with each 10% increase in price comes a 7% decrease in youth tobacco use and a 4% overall decrease. That means price is the best way to influence tobacco use, Koenemann has said.

Aspen was the first municipality in the state to pass a tobacco tax, when voters in 2017 approved a measure nearly identical to the one later passed in Pitkin County.

“It was really the city of Aspen … that was such a leader in all of this work,” Koenemann said. “Once Aspen did it, it really provided the guardrails for other communities to think about tobacco policy work.”

So as of midnight, Pitkin County, Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt, Glenwood Springs and Eagle County will all levy hefty tobacco taxes on cigarettes and tobacco/nicotine products. The only spots without the tax are Garfield County, which is mulling the idea, and Carbondale, she said.

“We’ve really seen this region become a hotbed of tobacco taxes in the state,” Koenemann said.

Pitkin County’s tobacco tax passed with more than 78% of the vote, while Aspen’s was approved by 75% of city voters. Eagle County’s tax passed with nearly 70% approval.

All the tobacco taxes come on the heels of the defeat of a statewide tobacco tax in 2016, in which Pitkin County had the highest support of any county in the state.

“It’s so important to decrease (tobacco) use and initiation,” said Risa Turetsky, Pitkin County’s health promotion program administrator. “We have really high rates of use here.”

The five-member Pitkin Board of County Commissioners are not yet finished with the tobacco issue, however. On Jan. 8, the board will hear the first reading of a new law to raise the minimum age to buy tobacco in the county from 18 to 21. Commissioners have also expressed support for banning flavored nicotine products, including flavored chewing tobacco and menthol cigarettes.

Aspen, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs have already banned flavored nicotine products, while Garfield County is pondering a ban.


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