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Health Groups Challenge Cigarette Tax Opponent Claims

Colorado health groups are crying foul over claims made by opponents of Amendment 72. (Pixabay)
Colorado health groups are crying foul over claims made by opponents of Amendment 72. (Pixabay)
November 4, 2016

DENVER – Coloradans are enduring the typical onslaught of political advertising this election season, and many are familiar with arguments against Amendment 72, a proposal to increase cigarette taxes. Altria, Phillip Morris' parent company, has invested more than $17 million in the group "No on 72" to defeat the measure.

Polly Anderson, the vice president for strategy and financing for the Colorado Community Health Network said some of the group's claims are misleading at best.

"One of the claims they make is that the $315 million is locked into the constitution for pet programs where there's no way of knowing how the money will be spent," she said. "And that really couldn't be more wrong."

She pointed to a full page of ballot language explaining how funds will be distributed. She acknowledged that specific groups to get money won't be known until after a competitive grant process, but noted that programs will be overseen by the state Auditor following implementation laws passed by the state's General Assembly and signed by the governor.

According to the watchdog group Clean Slate Now, health groups, including Anderson's network, Children's Hospital Colorado and the American Heart Association, have ponied up more than two million dollars in support of the measure.

"That's no surprise," she added. "From a public health perspective, raising the cost of cigarettes through a tax increase is one of the most effective ways to help kids never start smoking and to help current smokers quit."

Currently, Colorado kids smoke seven million packs of cigarettes a year.

No on 72 also argues that only 20 percent of the new tax will be dedicated to smoking prevention, and most of the $1.6 billion already collected from tobacco companies by Colorado has been used on unrelated programs. Anderson said a constitutional amendment will ensure the money goes where it's needed most.

"It really does go to those most impacted by smoking," she explained. "Veterans smoke at higher rates than the general population and a good chunk of money will go to fund their unmet medical and mental health needs."

Anderson added smoking is the number one cause of preventable death in Colorado, taking more than 5,000 lives per year, at a cost of almost two billion dollars annually, or more than $700 a year per household, whether they smoke or not.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - CO