The town of Snowmass Village will vote tonight on an ordinance to raise the minimum purchase age for tobacco to 21 years old. Snowmass Village is the only municipality in Pitkin County to still allow sales to those between 18 and 21 years old, although the two local tobacco retailers have elected to raise the sales age on their own.
Clark’s Express ceased selling any tobacco products earlier this year.
The ordinance would create a required license at a fee of $125 per year in order to sell tobacco products. This is the third time the measure is in front of the council, which has sparred over the license requirement.
During a Feb. 19 meeting, council member Bob Sirkus said he was vehemently opposed to instituting the tobacco license, especially because all relevant businesses had already self-selected to follow the proposed law.
“It’s bureaucratic government overreach, in Snowmass Village it’s not necessary,” Sirkus said.
The alternative would be to pass an ordinance that raised the age limit but did not require a special license to sell tobacco. Mayor Markey Butler argued that without the threat to the business, just raising the age limit would be a less effective way to keep tobacco out of the hands of young adults.
The other council members present agreed with Sirkus and directed staff to remove the license requirements.
However, during a second reading on March 18, the council reversed its decision and voted to put the license requirements back in.
Council member Alyssa Shenk, who was not present at the first meeting, pushed against the weaker regulation.
“When tobacco is the No. 1 killer and you can license it, it’s insane to me [not to]” Shenk said.
Risa Turetsky of Pitkin County Public Health encouraged the council to match the rest of the county.
“We really need to be sending a common message, not only to the youth but also to the adults who are supporting our kids,” Turetsky said.
Aspen and Basalt both use a license system to enforce their tobacco purchase ages. The measures in those towns were passed when Colorado was able to revoke sales tax refunds for towns that create a tobacco license. Last month, Gov. Jared Polis signed a measure that removes that financial penalty, which would have cost Snowmass Village about $15,000 a year.
Carbondale has raised the purchase age without requiring licenses. The town performs monthly undercover compliance checks to ensure that vendors are checking purchase ages.
The Snowmass Village ordinance puts the role of compliance checks in the hands of the Snowmass Village police department. A $50 fee is implemented for the first violation if a store is caught selling to someone under 21. The new ordinance also fines underage people in possession of tobacco $50.
Police Chief Brian Olson said that the enforcement approach done by his officers is based around educating members of the public about the law, as well as cessation programs.
“We can start to change behavior and the dynamic in our own community, we will be able to affect change,” Olson said.