Colorado Case Study
Tobacco Excise Tax Constitutional Amendment Referendum Campaign in Colorado
What is the policy and/or program intervention designed to do?
- Increase tobacco excise taxes to reduce tobacco use among youth and adults.
- Dedicate the revenues raised by the tax increases to tobacco prevention and treatment and other health-related programs.
Explain the implementation of the policy and/or program intervention.
Beginning with the title setting process conducted during January 2004 through the final 3 months preceding the election in November 2004, Citizens for a Healthier Colorado launched a comprehensive implementation strategy to secure voter support for the amendment referendum. Grassroots outreach was expanded; funds were raised; public education and paid and unpaid media campaigns were rolled out; campaign endorsements were secured; and key leaders and other supporters participated in debates, dialogues, and presentations organized by state and community groups and organizations.
With the newly formed Citizens for a Healthier Colorado (CHC) up and running, along with the start-up of major fundraising efforts and the favorable 2003 state Supreme Court ruling in hand, the title setting process was initiated during January 2004. CHC submitted to the Title Board its proposed amendment to (1) increase the cigarette excise tax $0.64; (2) to increase the excise tax on other tobacco products to 40% of the wholesale price; and (3) earmark the revenues raised by the tax increases for tobacco prevention and treatment and other health-related programs as follows, 46% for expanded health coverage for low-income children and adults, 19% to boost primary care, 16% for tobacco education and cessation, 16% for preventing and treating cancer and heart and lung diseases, and 3% to bolster the Old Age Pension Fund and compensate counties for lower sales tax revenues from tobacco. The Title Board ruled in April 2004 that the amendment was valid.
In order to place the amendment on the ballot, a total of 67,824 valid signatures were needed. CHC formally launched the campaign during mid-May after the legislative session adjourned and announced its goal of obtaining 110,000 signatures to place the amendment on the November ballot. A firm was hired to secure 90,000 of these signatures, and grassroots volunteers were asked to secure 20,000. Close to 112,000 signatures were collected and submitted to the Colorado secretary of state by early August. More than 85,600 of the signatures were certified, and Amendment 35 was placed on the November 2004 ballot.
Up to this point there was little overt opposition to the initiative. Covert opposition, however, had appeared. A competing proposal to increase the cigarette excise tax by $0.50 was introduced in the legislature with support from the AARP. Although CHC had invited AARP to participate in its initiative effort, AARP was unwilling to commit its support and endorsed another tobacco excise tax increase that earmarked revenues to expanding senior and children's health programs. And in early May, in an attempt to undermine the amendment's requirement (were it to pass) to use revenues generated by the increased taxes to supplement not supplant funding for existing programs, the legislature enacted a law zeroing out all health expenditures for a single day on January 1, 2005. CHC filed a legal challenge to the legislation.
During the summer of 2004, polling was again conducted, it showing that a large majority of Colorado voters remained in support of increasing the tobacco excise taxes. During early July, the American Lung Association of Colorado released "Tobacco Industry Involvement in Colorado," a report on how the tobacco industry campaigned throughout the 1990s to defeat tobacco taxes and to fight smoking bans at the state and local levels. The report alerted voters to past tobacco industry manipulation and attempts to interfere in Colorado elections and in state and local legislative actions.
Fundraising plateaued at about $1.6 million by late summer. Because 2004 was both a presidential and senatorial election year, the demand for television and radio air, as well as its cost, could be expected to increase as the election drew nearer and the availability of preferred airtimes would decrease. CHC made a strategic decision to lock in advertising contracts with television and radio stations in late summer, purchasing $920,000 in television airtime and $50,000 in radio airtime in non-metropolitan markets for ads that would run during September and October. An additional $500,000 was raised from CHC partners during the final 2 months of the campaign.
After all of the groundwork and time spent in planning, preparation, and early stages of implementation, during August, September, and October, the campaign moved into its most active phase—educating and mobilizing voters to support Amendment 35. The implementation strategies used were ones familiar to all political campaigns. From organizing and training grassroots activists to monitoring the opposition, from voter identification to voter turnout, from lawn signs to press conferences, from announcing endorsements to statewide and local media campaigns on television and radio and in the press, from direct mail to speaking at state and local clubs and organizations, from editorial board visits to letters to the editor, from debates to press releases, the campaign was in election mode. While county health agencies, as well as STEPP, provided information to local coalitions, groups, and individuals, as requested, on evidence-based strategies to reduce tobacco use among youth and adults, none were involved in the campaign.
During September, trouble erupted within the legislative committee responsible for authorizing text for the "blue book," Colorado's official state voter guide that explains all constitutional amendments. Committee staff sought information from supporters and opponents of amendments, analyzed the information, and presented three or four arguments for and arguments against each amendment for legislative approval for inclusion in the blue book. During the committee discussion on the tobacco excise tax amendment, the committee vetoed the language used in the staff-prepared arguments against and inserted language endorsed by the tobacco industry. The new language, brought to the committee by a tobacco industry-friendly legislator, was identical to language used in an Altria/Philip Morris-funded study of "potential" revenue loss to local communities if the tobacco excise tax amendment passed. CHC immediately proposed new language to counter the misinformation put forth by opponents of the tax increase and submitted it for inclusion in arguments for the amendment. After committee debate, the CHC-proposed language was accepted.
During this time, Philip Morris announced its opposition to the referendum but put little effort or money into urging its defeat. Tobacco industry representatives would not participate in debates. The Independence Institute, a think tank in the Denver area, actively opposed the amendment, arguing that government should not be involved in preventing and reducing tobacco use. Throughout the fall of 2004, numerous polls were commissioned by a variety of groups, including newspapers and television stations. Support for the amendment was consistently strong. Every poll showed the amendment passing with a high majority. Most newspapers throughout the state wrote editorials supporting the amendment. The governor did not support Amendment 35.
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