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ENDORSEMENT: Vote 'yes' on 72, a move to save lives

By: The Gazette editorial board
October 13, 2016 Updated: October 13, 2016 at 6:36 am
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(AP Photo/Pat Wellenbach, File)

We have an option to vote for better health, saying "yes" to Amendment 72.

Cigarettes cause cancer and heart disease and kill more than a half million people each year. Most who smoke begin as kids or young adults, and Colorado children consume 7 million packs of cigarettes each year.

Smoking directly raises health care costs in Colorado by $1.89 billion a year; costs state Medicaid $386.3 million; costs Colorado $1.27 billion in lost annual productivity. Smoking-caused government expenditures raise the annual federal and state tax burden in Colorado by $707 for each household.

It doesn't have to be this way.

To get more of any consumer activity, lower the price. It's like opening a valve. Conversely, raise the price to slow consumption. It's a simple concept. At a dollar a gallon, $20 buys 20 gallons of gas. It buys half that much at $2 a gallon. The phenomenon scales so reliably we see fewer miles driven nationally, and less fuel consumed in the greater economy, when gas prices rise.

Elections and politicians don't set prices, but they do impose taxes.

In November, voters will have the option of raising the costs of smoking by approving Amendment 72.

"Amendment 72 will save thousands of lives," Gov. John Hickenlooper said.

It would do so by increasing the tax on a pack of cigarettes from $.84 to $2.59. The price of a pack would rise by $1.75. It's a hit most young people, those most likely to start smoking, cannot afford. It would make cigarettes less attractive and less available. It would put an absolute limit on the number of cigarettes that users, as a collective, could afford to buy.

This is not hypothesis. We know tax increases on cigarettes reduce consumption. After Colorado voters raised the cigarette tax from 64 cents to 84 cents in 2004, sales dropped from 300 million packs a year to 226.7 million the following year. They declined nearly every successive year after the tax hike.

In addition to the $1.75 cigarette tax, the amendment would increase the cost of chewing tobacco, cigars and other tobacco products by 22 percent.

The new taxes would generate an estimated $315 million annually. The money would pay for an assortment of state health programs, including:

- $92 million for Colorado-based research to prevent and improve treatments for cancer, heart and lung disease, Alzheimer's disease, and youth mental health

- $48 million for medical and mental health care for 500,000 Colorado veterans

- $34 million to increase access to health care in rural and underserved areas

- $34 million to expand access to youth behavioral health services

- $54 million to meet the recommended funding levels by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for tobacco education, prevention, and cessation programs for Colorado's youths and adults

- $17 million to provide training and repay student debt for medical professionals in rural and underserved areas

- $36 million to tobacco tax-funded programs, compensating for expected reductions in revenues due to lower tobacco use.

Cigarettes kill. Raise the cost and slow consumption. Save lives and improve Colorado's health. Vote yes on Amendment 72.

the gazette editorial board

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