Colorado Lawmakers Scrutinize Tobacco

Several cities propose new taxes, flavor bans
Photograph: Shutterstock

LAKEVILLE, Minn. On July 16, the Boulder, Colo., City Council met to discuss myriad proposals that would potentially ban flavored smokeless tobacco, pipe tobacco, cigars and nicotine vapor products. The council members discussed changes to zoning laws, creation of a licensing regime for tobacco stores, banning flavored products, taxing nicotine vapor products and raising the age of purchase for tobacco products from 18 to 21. 

This week, the council met to consider the introduction of legislation that would codify some of those changes, but it is also considering amendments to exempt cigarettes, roll-your-own (RYO) tobacco, cigars, pipe tobacco and smokeless tobacco from a flavor-ban restriction. Whether in Denver, Aurora, Vail or Boulder, there is no shortage of restrictive tobacco legislation under consideration throughout Colorado.

In the final days of the state legislative session this year, a last-minute effort to increase cigarette and taxes did not pass; however, at the same time, the Colorado legislature did loosen restrictions on local governments’ ability to enact restrictive ordinances. The action seems to have encouraged local governments to consider new restrictions and local excise taxes.

In Colorado, local governments may create and apply cigarette taxes, but those who choose to do so lose their local share of cigarette excise tax funds collected by the state. No such limitation exists for new taxes on nicotine vapor products. One additional consideration, unique to Colorado, is that governments operate under the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (or TABOR) amendment. TABOR requires new or increased tax proposals to be approved by voters. An increasing number of local governments are moving to place these tax questions on the next ballot.

Many local governments, including Boulder, are also considering proposals to increase the age of purchase for tobacco products from 18 to 21. If governments enact increased age-of-purchase laws, officials should give those new laws time to work before considering additional restrictions. Federal government data consistently demonstrates that most underage youth acquire tobacco products not from traditional retailers but from social sources (usually friends or family members). Raising the age of purchase should eliminate many of those social sources for teens still in high school.

Government data also demonstrates that while we have seen an uptick in youth experimentation with vapor products, youth are using alcohol and cannabis at higher levels than they use tobacco or nicotine products. Even though alcohol and nicotine are recognized as “adult products” and sold only to those 21 and older, there is no similar movement to restrict the sale of or ban these other kinds of products. 

NATO actively supports reasonable efforts to reduce and eliminate underage sales; however, if sales are prohibited to anyone under age 21 and those restrictions are enforced, adults over age 21 should be able to choose the products they prefer, and retailers should be able to legally sell them.

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