An Interview with Catherine Strode
Amendment 72 presents a proposal to raise the price of tobacco products. A “yes” vote on the Colorado Tobacco Tax Increase will raise the tax on cigarettes by $1.75 per pack. A “no” vote will keep the tax at its current rate of 84 cents per pack. Jodi Radke is the Regional Director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. As one of Amendment 72’s leading proponents, she manages tobacco control policies for ten states. In an interview with Catherine Strode, Jodi says the primary purpose of Amendment 72 is to reduce use rates across the state, especially among kids, and to use the incoming revenue to benefit tobacco users.
How do we know raising tobacco prices reduces use rates?
“We have a lot of data and many state examples in terms of price increases and documenting quit attempts by adults and use rates amongst our kids. We look to that data to see what the outcomes are of these tax increases. It clearly demonstrates that for every 10 percent increase in pack price, we see a 7 per cent decrease amongst those primary populations. The higher the amount of the increase in tobacco products, the greater decrease we see in youth rates. There’s consensus on this policy change and its impact. The World Health Organization, the Surgeon General, even the tobacco companies are in consensus that this is one of the most effective ways to reduce youth rates.”
Which state model is Colorado following?
“The most recent and relevant example in terms of a similar amount being proposed here in Colorado is the state of Minnesota. They recently passed a per pack increase of $1.60. It was a win win for Minnesota. They’ve been selling fewer packs of cigarettes and made a 24 per cent reduction in overall sales. They also saw a revenue increase of $204 million per year. Most importantly, they saw the sharpest declines in use rates amongst youth and adults. They reduced their rates amongst kids from 18.1 per cent to 10 and a half percent. With adult Minnesotans that use, they saw a significant decrease as well, dropping from 16.1 per cent down to 14.4 per cent. Both cases bring them below the national average for kids and adults that use tobacco. Folks who are accessing services on their ‘Quit Line’ cited the price increase as their main motivation in assisting them to quit. I think it’s a clear indicator that these policies work.”
Is the incoming revenue earmarked for specific services in the state?
“I know a lot of folks hear about this being a ‘blank check’ in our Constitution. Certainly, it’s not a ‘blank check’. It’s a very specific check, with very specific outlined revenue designations. These were very intentionally chosen to benefit the user of tobacco. We feel on the public health side if a tobacco user is paying a tax, they should somehow benefit from those monies being generated from this increase in price. The revenue designations are being directed to a number of different programs. One is medical-related research specifically related to tobacco use: chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), emphysema, lung cancers. Monies will also go to fully fund our Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Program. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend a certain spending level within each state. Colorado funds half of what the CDC recommends.”
What other public health areas will the incoming revenue impact?
“We look to what other populations are disproportionately impacted by tobacco use. Those are where these monies are being directed. Money will be directed to fund mental and behavioral health services, a population disproportionately impacted with much higher use rates than our average resident population. Part of these monies will be directed to veteran care, unfunded physical and mental health needs. This is a population that’s been adversely affected. Many (veterans) return from deployment addicted to tobacco, using that as a coping mechanism. We feel strongly in the public health community that we can equip them with better coping mechanisms that aren’t harmful to their health and cause death, disability, and disease later in their lives. There’s also a portion of the money that will be directed to our rural communities and our underserved communities in the outlying areas of the metro area. These revenue designations are extremely intentional and reflect what we feel are the interests of the people in Colorado.”
What would the financial impact be to the state?
“Tobacco related illnesses cost our state $1.9 billion annually and $386 million in Medicaid alone. Decreasing use rates across our state saves the state money in the long run, in terms of overall dollars. This policy change is to reduce rates amongst kids because we know the industry needs new users to fill their profit pipelines. They know this is effective in keeping kids from ever starting. The primary purpose is assuredly (to have) public health impact but with the revenue increase, there are dollars that come in from that. Being intentional about where those dollars are directed is critical to the public health outcomes.”
Catherine Strode is Advocacy Denver’s Communications and Policy Specialist. She holds a Masters degree in Public Administration with an emphasis in Health Care Policy. Catherine publishes Policy Perspective, featuring interviews with state policy makers on issues that affect the work and mission of Advocacy Denver.