Colorado Senate rejects nicotine tax that would have boosted preschool spending

A proposed nicotine tax backed by Gov. Jared Polis was rejected by the Colorado Senate Thursday night.

The proposal would have allowed Colorado to double its investment in state-funded preschool spots, as well as raised money for health care and enrichment programs for children from low-income families. To pay for these programs, voters would have been asked to triple the tax on cigarettes to $2.59 a pack, and impose a 62 percent tax on e-cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Colorado does not currently tax the liquid nicotine used in e-cigarettes, making vaping a cheap and attractive alternative to cigarettes. Colorado leads the nation in teen vaping, and supporters said raising the price of vaping products would help curb use.

House Bill 1333 was rolled out with less than two weeks left in the 2019 legislative session and arrived in the Senate Wednesday. Opponents saw the tax as regressive and argued it was wrong to fund important programs with a “sin tax” that, if it achieved its policy aims of reducing use, would be a diminishing source of revenue.

As reported by the Colorado Sun, tobacco interests also launched an aggressive social media and lobbying campaign against the tax almost as soon as it was announced.

The Colorado Senate rejected the bill with no debate or discussion, a remarkable occurrence in a chamber that has seen extended debate on a large number of bills this session.

The vote was a “division vote” in which supporters stand to be counted. Reporters in the chamber counted just nine of 19 Democratic senators in support.

The nicotine tax was the second contentious bill to die in the Senate Thursday. Democratic leaders delayed debate until Friday on a bill that would have made it harder to get a vaccine exemption. The means it’s impossible for the bill to pass this year because the session will end before it could get two votes on two different days.

Polis had suggested he would veto the bill because he thought it placed too many burdens on parents.