Polis wants to tax vaping, increase cigarette tax to pay for preschool, health care

Gov. Jared Polis has a plan to pay for preschool and a program that would lower health care costs for people on the Western Slope: Add an excise tax on vaping and increase taxes on cigarettes.

Polis introduced the tax proposal Wednesday at a press conference with Rep. Yadira Caraveo, D-Thornton, who is sponsoring a bill that would ask voters in November 2019 whether this new tax is something they want.

The bill — which has less than two weeks to get through the legislature before lawmakers must adjourn for the year — would increase the taxes Coloradans pay on a pack of cigarettes from $0.84 to $2.59 a pack. It would also tax “vape juice,” also known as “e-liquid,” at the same rate as cigarettes.

The governor says youth vaping is an epidemic in Colorado — occurring at twice the national average.

The money raised annually by the taxes would be divided three ways:

$111 million to expand pre-kindergarten availability across the state.
$75 million for a reinsurance proposal, which would create a state fund to help insurance companies take care of the sickest patients, lowering premiums overall.
$38 million for behavioral health programs.

But the owners of vaping stores say that tax comes at a high price.

“That’s larger than my profit margin,” said Amanda Wheeler, the owner of Jvapes, which has two locations in Colorado Springs.

She told The Denver Post she’d have to raise her prices significantly if this tax passes, which means she could end up losing her two stores in Colorado if her customers turn to online retailers that don’t have to pay this new tax.

Wheeler pointed to Pennsylvania as an example. The state instituted a 40 percent excise tax on smokeless tobacco products in 2016 and dozens of small shops closed.