COLORADO SPRINGS — Colorado voters will have a tough decision to make when it comes to one ballot measure. Proposition EE, which if approved in November, would hike taxes on tobacco products and levy the first-ever tax on vaping.
Cigarette taxes would gradually increase over the next seven years from 84 cents per pack to $2.64. Vaping taxes would increase in line with other tobacco products.
Lawmakers created the measure to accomplish three things: backfill some of the budget cuts to K-12 education, provide additional tobacco cessation and prevention services, and fund universal free preschool.
"We know that early childhood education is important and so it's an investment in our future here in Colorado. The funding through the taxation will go to fund that universal preschool for all children age four so they get that important early preschool that will prepare them for kindergarten," said Trish Eells, Nurse Practitioner at The Children's Hospital Colorado.
Advocates for the measure say by increasing taxes on tobacco products and closing the tax loophole on vape products, teens will be deterred from getting the products.
"History tells us that taxation reduces consumption so therefore we're compelling more people to quit and support them in their effort to do so with the money that will be available for cessation programs. We are also hoping to discourage kids from ever wanting to pick up the habit," said Eells. "It's about saving lives and protecting our kids from the risk of tobacco and vape products."
Eells says vaping creates lifelong addiction and health problems related to nicotine. She says kids who vape have trouble learning in school, decreased cognitive abilities, short attention span, and more likely to be impulsive. As adults, they're more likely to have mood disorders like depression and anxiety.
"Proposition EE allows us to address the cycle of addiction and intervene, promoting health for our kids," said Eells. "It will also give us the opportunity to learn more about addiction medicine in kids and teenagers. There is a lot that we don't know, it's not that easy to tell someone to quick smoking or vaping."
But those against the measure are concerned with a tax hike during a pandemic as well as how the Proposition EE funds are appropriated.
"We don't know who qualifies for the funds or how they are distributed. Is it everyone in the state that will have access to preschool? What about cities like Denver that already have a preschool tax. Will they receive any money? Is this a preschool voucher program?" said Michelle Lyng, spokesperson for "No on EE- A Bad Deal for Colorado.
Lyng says there are too many unanswered questions with Proposition EE, especially when it comes to where the funds will go.
"I know funds will not go to preschool, not a dime will go to preschool for two in a half years if ever. There is nothing in Proposition EE that requires the state legislature to spend the funds collected from this tax on preschool," said Lyng. "These funds go to this potential preschool program after they've funded the following existing programs: Tobacco Education Fund, General Fund, Eviction Legal Defense Fund, Rural Schools Fund, Cash Fund, and etc."
Lyng says if health experts want to focus on curbing tobacco and vaping use then more funds should be placed in cessation. She says only a small portion is allocated to cessation then the rest goes to the state legislature which can decide to spend the funds elsewhere.
"Setting aside this money is dependent on the state legislature," said Lyng. "Colorado has a history of passing tax hikes for a specific purpose and those funds from the tax hikes don't necessarily fulfill the promise to voters."
Tanner Adams, CEO of Chief Vapor, is not for or against the ballot measure but believes it will hurt the adults trying to quit smoking.
"With the tax, it will raise prices for e-cigarette smokers and make them more reluctant to go to vaping and shove some of them back to smoking," said Adams. "We are hoping to lower costs for our consumers so that more will join vaping and make it positive for them and their family."
With his vape shop, Adam says he advertises to the adults trying to quit smoking or wean themselves off of cigarettes. When it comes to teens, they ensure ID's are checked and scanned to ensure they don't sell to an underage minor.
"We don't want kids addicted. The reason I got into this is that I saw the benefit of how it helps adult smokers get off of smoking," said Adams. "We don't feel like we are negative to the community and we try to do everything for the community."
If the measure is approved, Adams says they'll adapt pricing so their customers aren't too impacted.