Colorado Case Study
Tobacco Excise Tax Constitutional Amendment Referendum Campaign in Colorado
- Late fall/early winter 2002—CTEPA submitted a proposal to the RWJF SmokeLess States program for a Special Opportunity Grant. A $100,000 grant was awarded to CTEPA to expand and strengthen the coalition's membership.
- Winter 2003—CTEPA submitted to Title Board amendment language to raise tobacco excise taxes and dedicate the revenue raised from the tax increases to health care programs in order to determine the legality of the language and to draw out the arguments that opponents would make in opposition to the proposal. Following Title Board approval and tobacco company appeal, the Colorado Supreme Court ruled in favor of CTEPA's amendment language.
- Spring 2003—CTEPA withdrew proposal from consideration on the 2003 ballot.
- Spring 2003—CTEPA hired a public relations firm with ties to both tobacco control groups and health care groups to rebuild strained relationships and bring health care groups into a new, expanded coalition.
- Summer 2003—a facilitator was hired to bring top tobacco control and health care leaders together to discuss joining forces to lead a campaign to increase tobacco excise taxes and dedicate the new revenues to health-related and tobacco control programs. This group emerged as the Steering Committee of Citizens for a Healthier Colorado.
- Summer 2003—agreement reached on embarking on the tax campaign focused on evidence that increasing the price of tobacco products reduces tobacco use prevalence and consumption among youth and adults.
- Summer 2003—poll conducted to measure public support for raising tobacco excise taxes and dedicating new revenues to health-related and tobacco control programs.
- Summer/fall 2003—Steering Committee met regularly to determine how much to increase the taxes, how to earmark the new revenues raised, and whether to collect signatures to place the amendment directly on the ballot or to seek a legislative vote to place it on the ballot.
- Fall 2003—Several CTEPA members attended a CDC-sponsored meeting on sustaining state tobacco prevention and control programs at which the group agreed upon a plan on how to use the revenue from a successful tax campaign.
- Late fall/early winter 2003—the Steering Committee evolved into the Executive Committee of the campaign. CHC reached consensus on proposed language for the amendment proposing to raise the cigarette excise tax $0.64; to raise the excise tax on other tobacco products to 40% of the wholesale price; and to earmark the revenues raised for tobacco prevention and treatment and for 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 diseases, and 3% to bolster the Old Age Pension Fund and compensate counties for lower sales tax revenues from tobacco. There was agreement to place the amendment on the ballot via a voter initiative rather than through legislative action.
- Winter 2004—Fundraising goal of $1 million is met and surpassed by $100,000.
- Winter 2004—Title setting process begun with submission of proposed amendment to the Title Board.
- Spring 2004—Title Board authorizes the amendment.
- Spring 2004—Colorado legislature defeats competing cigarette excise tax increase; new law enacted undermining amendment language prohibiting revenues generated by increased tobacco excise taxes from supplanting current funds.
- May 17, 2004—CHC formally launches campaign to pass Amendment 35 and announces intent to gather 110,000 signatures to place the amendment on the November 2004 ballot.
- Summer 2004—Poll shows strong support for Amendment 35; American Lung Association of Colorado releases report entitled "Tobacco Industry Involvement in Colorado."
- Summer 2004—more than 112,000 signatures were submitted to the Colorado secretary of state, who ordered Amendment 35 placed on the November 2004 ballot.
- Late summer 2004—A total of $970,000 of airtime was purchased to run television and radio ads during September and October.
- Early fall 2004—After intrusion by Altria/Philip Morris, legislative committee approved arguments for and arguments against Amendment 35 to be included in the "blue book" voter guide distributed to Colorado households.
- Fall 2004—Philip Morris announces opposition to Amendment 35.
- Fall 2004—CHC reports additional $500,000 in fundraising.
- Fall 2004—Campaign prepares for election by educating, mobilizing and turning out voters to support Amendment 35; recruiting, organizing, training and sending forth grassroots activists; monitoring the opposition; planting lawn signs; organizing press events and distributing press releases; gathering and announcing endorsements; airing television and radio ads and running print advertising campaigns; sending direct mail pieces to voters; scheduling speakers; visiting newspaper editorial boards; submitting letters to the editor; and participating in debates and discussions in a wide variety of venues.
- November 2, 2004—Amendment 35 passed by Colorado voters by a 61%–39% margin.
On November 2, 2004, Colorado voters passed Amendment 35, increasing tobacco excise taxes with the revenues from the tax increases dedicated to tobacco prevention and treatment and other health-related programs. The tax increases went into effect on January 1, 2005. Because the amendment language was written in general terms (e.g., "expand health care," "boost primary care," and "health improvement"), the actual appropriations must be made by the legislature. The governor, who did not support the amendment, has proposed a spending plan that differs significantly with a spending plan introduced by a state legislator and endorsed by Citizens for a Healthier Colorado. In addition, legislation passed by the legislature in late May 2004 to "zero out" all state accounts on January 1, 2005, to enable the new revenues to be used to supplant existing funds is being litigated. The courts and the legislature will make the determinations on how the revenues generated by the increased tobacco excise taxes will be appropriated.
The campaign and the ensuing legislative action on appropriating the revenues generated by the increased taxes are the subject of a thesis being written by a student active in the campaign who is pursuing a master's degree in public health.
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