Snowmass Village is gearing up to make it illegal for anyone under 21 years of age to purchase tobacco products, based on the feedback the town council gave during a recent work session.
That would see the town raising the legal age to buy tobacco products, including vaping supplies, from 18 to 21; elected officials indicated it was time to join other municipalities in the upper Roaring Fork Valley, including Aspen, Basalt and Carbondale, with this restriction. Avon is the other Colorado municipality that restricts tobacco sales to 21-year-olds.
Needham, Mass. was the first municipality to raise the smoking age, according to
Risa Turetsky, a nurse practitioner who represented Pitkin County during the Nov. 12 town council work session. Her position is funded by a grant, she said. Since Needham’s move, more than 300 other cities and counties in 20 states have followed suit.
Turetsky told council that “Ninety-five percent of current smokers were smokers before the age of 21,” and that having a first cigarette by the age of 18 doubles the chance of one becoming a lifetime smoker.
In order for Snowmass Village to make this change, it must be by ordinance and will potentially create a loss of about $15,000 in annual tax collections. That wasn’t seen as a major deterrent by elected officials last week, who insisted the health of the area’s youth is more important.
There are four retail locations in the village that sell tobacco products: Clark’s Express, Snowmass Conoco, Sundance Liquor and Gifts and Daly Bottle Shop. Two establishments, Zane’s and Slow Groovin’, have tobacco vending machines.
The state’s department of revenue currently perform underage compliance checks and will continue to do so for those under the age of 18, Turetsky said. She added the town would be responsible for those aged 18-21.
While smoking had for years declined in usage, the rise of vape products has turned around its popularity. Based upon information from a recent report, “Thirty-five percent of high school students said they had used a vape product,” Turetsky said.
Police Chief Brian Olson, during the meeting, supported getting rid of vending machines, “They’re just a big leak,” he said. But Olson wasn’t a fan of the idea of the local police performing compliance checks. He also said it’s fair to insert language on compliance checks into an ordinance.
“But I think we can stay out ahead of it with education and relationships. That will be more productive, Snowmass-style.” Olson added that in a small community he didn’t favor “sting” operations on the local level.
As town staff develops the ordinance, which will be presented at a future meeting, they will also contemplate how underage employees at establishments that sell cigarettes will be trained in cigarette product sales.