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Smoker Friendly Speaks Out Against Colorado's Amendment 72

BOULDER, Colo. — On Nov. 8, Colorado residents will not only cast votes for a presidential candidate. They will also vote yes or no on a ballot question to raise the state's tobacco tax — known as Amendment 72.

However, one Boulder-based retailer is taking a stand against the proposal to hike the cigarette levy by $1.75 per pack. The current tax is 84 cents per pack. The amendment is projected to raise $315 million a year.

In an opinion piece in the Daily Camera, Mary Szarmach, vice president for trade marketing and government relations and a co-owner of Smoker Friendly International, called the tax "disastrous for our business." Smoker Friendly is a family business that operates a 102-store chain of gas, tobacco and convenience stores.

"The last time we weathered a tax increase of this magnitude, we had to close 19 percent of our stores and lay off over 70 hard-working employees," she explained. "Tax increases such as these also make for a less safe work environment. Break-ins and armed robberies have grown between 10 and 20 percent in other states where this type of tax increase has taken place."

According to Szarmach, Amendment 72 offers few guarantees that the $315 million in new tax dollars would be spent appropriately. 

"Most of the new revenue generated by this tax is dedicated to programs that have not even been determined. Fifty-one percent of new tax dollars fund grant awards where guidelines have not even been written. The lax oversight for hundreds of millions of dollars creates conflict of interest concerns," she wrote. 

Szarmach added the more than $1 billion Colorado has already received from tobacco companies under the Master Settlement Agreement was earmarked for youth tobacco prevention and tobacco cessation programs, but most of the money has been spent on unrelated government programs.

"We are responsible retailers of legal adult commodities, and believe strongly in youth prevention. This bill dedicates less than 20 percent of the new tax money to smoking-prevention programs," she said. "Before Colorado locks hundreds of millions of dollars in new spending into the state's constitution, voters deserve to know which programs this money funds, and that it won't be wasted. Our state needs money for roads and schools, yet Amendment 72 does not dedicate a dime to these pressing issues."

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