The cigarette tax is levied on the sale of cigarettes by wholesalers and is assessed at a fixed amount on each single cigarette sold. The cigarette tax has two components. The first, enacted in 1964, is a tax of 1¢ per cigarette.1 In 2004, voters approved an additional 3.2¢ tax per cigarette with the passage of Amendment 35. The Department of Revenue is responsible for administering both taxes, which are collected in practice as a single tax of 84¢ per pack of 20 cigarettes. Wholesalers are responsible for collection of the tax and must submit monthly payments to the Department of Revenue on or before the tenth day of the month following collections.
The original 1¢ tax is subject to the TABOR Amendment’s limitations on state revenue and spending. Amendment 35 is a voter-approved tax increase, exempting the additional tax revenue from the TABOR limit.
Cigarettes are taxed at 4.2¢ per cigarette (84¢ per pack of 20 cigarettes). Cigarettes are also subject to the 2.9 percent state sales tax. Local governments and special districts may also levy a cigarette tax. Since a change in statute in 2019, local governments may levy a cigarette tax and still be entitled to an allocation of state cigarette tax revenue. This has resulted in an increase in local measures to tax cigarettes. No tax exemptions or credits are available for cigarettes.
The distribution of revenue from the cigarette tax and tobacco tax is illustrated below. Through the Old Age Pension Fund, revenue from the original 1¢ tax per cigarette is allocated to the General Fund for spending on general operations at the discretion of the General Assembly.2,3 Twenty-seven percent of this revenue is distributed to local governments based on the amount of revenue collected within a given city or county.4 A majority of Amendment 35 revenue is distributed to state and local government health care and tobacco prevention programs, as required by the Colorado Constitution.5,6
The federal government levies a $1.01 excise tax on each pack of 20 cigarettes. The federal tax was increased from 39¢ per pack in 2009.
All states and territories in the U.S. levy excise taxes on cigarettes. Colorado’s tax on cigarettes is below the national average, ranking 38th among the 50 states as of 2020. New York levies the highest state excise tax at $4.35 per pack of 20 cigarettes. Missouri levies the lowest state excise tax at 17¢ per pack.
Among local governments, as of 2020 Chicago levies the highest tax, at $7.16 per pack, while at $4.84 per pack, Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, Eagle County, and Summit County rank in the top 10.
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