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    Colorado Groups Raise $1.6 Million To Support Tobacco Tax

    Convenience stores, cigarette companies will oppose proposal.

    DENVER -- Supporters of a measure that would raise Colorado's cigarette tax from 20 cents to 84 cents have raised another $130,000 in the past two weeks, bringing their total to $1.6 million, reported theDenverChannel.com.

    Mike Melanson, spokesman for the sponsors of the initiative, Citizens for a Healthier Colorado, said the group plans to spend $2.2 million to get Amendment 35 passed. He said his opponents, representing convenience stores and cigarette companies, have reported no contributions so far for their group, "Protect Our Constitution -- Vote No on 35."

    Roy Turner, executive vice president of the Colorado-Wyoming Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, said opponents have not yet raised any money to fight the proposal, but they will oppose it. He said the plan would increase cigarette taxes 320 percent.

    Turner said convenience stores depend heavily on sales of tobacco products because profit margins are thin on other products, especially gasoline, where they are facing competition from large retailers, including grocery stores.

    He said the tobacco industry has already paid $118 million to settle lawsuits over health problems caused by tobacco use and said lawmakers have squandered it, using it to balance the budget and not for tobacco education programs.

    Jamie Drogin, spokeswoman for tobacco giant Philip Morris, said opponents are gearing up to fight the measure. "We have begun to work with the committee to oppose it. We agree with them that adding a tax to the state constitution is not the way to manage the state's fiscal situation. We feel adding a 64-cent tax is excessive, and we believe it is unsound fiscal policy to depend on a declining fiscal base," she said.

    The tax increase would bring in about $175 million a year for programs like the Children's Basic Health Plan, Medicaid, primary care clinics, tobacco prevention and treatment of tobacco-related illnesses.

    The plan would raise the excise tax on other tobacco products like cigars and chewing tobacco by 20 percent.

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