Garfield County balks at stricter tobacco regulations
Garfield County commissioners are split on raising the tobacco purchasing age, but flavor bans and licensing tobacco retailers are on hold for now.
During a work session Tuesday, two commissioners indicated they would approve a resolution raising the tobacco purchasing age from 18 to 21 for stores in unincorporated Garfield County.
Glenwood Springs and Carbondale have approved aggressive rules against flavored nicotine products and implemented licensing requirements for retailers, to combat the widespread use of e-cigarette and tobacco use among students.
Eagle and Pitkin counties, along with multiple cities in the region, are implementing stricter tobacco policies following a 2019 law that allows municipalities to enact their own regulations.
Commissioner Tom Jankovsky interrupted a presentation of the various options, including flavored tobacco bans, and retail licensing, to say there are questions about the legality of enforcing tobacco policies.
The issues “need to be resolved before we can force 21 and under tobacco policy,” Jankovsky said, and suggested that county attorneys draft letters asking state representatives to address the legal issues.
It’s unclear what particular legal exposure Jankovsky was referencing. The commissioners held an executive session closed to the public Monday to discuss the county’s authority to regulate tobacco.
Apparently, the commissioners were not satisfied that they had sufficient authority to enforce the regulation.
“We don’t do anything about flavored tobacco until we get better direction from the state of Colorado,” Jankovsky said.
It was a slightly different story on the minimum purchasing age.
“There’s no mystery about who is dragging their feet on changing (the age),” commission chair John Martin said.
Martin said he was against increasing the tobacco purchasing age, as many cities across Colorado have done, because it restricts personal choice.
“If you want to be sick, and you want to have diseases, and what-have-you from smoking, that is your choice. I do not encourage anyone to smoke or vape, don’t get me wrong, but I am protecting the rights of those people that have the right to die for their country, to vote for the people in office, etc., to buy their tobacco if they want to,” Martin said.
Increasing the purchasing age to 21 reduces a teenager’s access to nicotine, a highly addictive substance, according to Garfield County Public Health Director Yvonne Long.
“15 and 16-year-olds probably don’t have access to 21-year-olds, like they do to 18-year-olds, to buy those products for them,” Long said.
While the majority of the board favored a resolution raising the purchasing age, they don’t see many enforcement options.
After implementing the purchasing age, the county could do compliance checks and consider licensing for the 10 stores who sell tobacco in unincorporated Garfield County at a future date.
The executive session Monday included a presentation from county attorneys on the authority to regulate tobacco.
Because it was a closed session, it’s unclear exactly what those issues were.
When the Tuesday work session began, however, the commissioners appeared to know each other’s position on the age limit.
“I think we have a 2-to-1 vote to raise the age,” Jankovsky said soon after the start of Tuesday’s work session.
If the commissioners made a decision during the closed executive session, that could violate Colorado’s open meeting laws.
“The Colorado Open Meeting Law is clear that executive sessions are for deliberations on authorized topics, not decision-making,” said Jeff Roberts of the Colorado Freedom of Information Coalition.
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