Snowmass Town Council motions to raise age to purchase tobacco products to 21 |

Snowmass Town Council motions to raise age to purchase tobacco products to 21

Erica Robbie
The Aspen Times

Snowmass Village is on track to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21 and also to prohibit its tobacco vending machines.

This is the direction Snowmass Town Council moved toward collectively during a Monday work session where Risa Turetsky of the Pitkin County Public Health Department presented the effects of youth tobacco use.

While the use of e-cigarettes is on the rise among adolescents nationally, Turetsky said, the numbers in Colorado are especially alarming.

According to a recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Colorado high school and middle school students smoke e-cigs at twice the national average. Colorado teens also ranked as the highest nicotine vaporizer users among the 37 states surveyed.

“The most common (e-cigs) right now are Juuls, which have captured about 70 percent of the youth market,” Turetsky told the council.

She pointed to Juul’s “tech-y, sleek, colorful” packaging as one of the ways the brand attracts a younger audience.

On a national scale, more than 320 cities and states have upped the age to buy tobacco products to 21.

In Colorado, the Roaring Fork Valley has been at the forefront of revising tobacco laws over the past year, with Aspen being the first municipality statewide to raise the legal age to buy.

Basalt, and more recently Carbondale, followed Aspen’s lead, leaving only Snowmass Village and Glenwood Springs now within a regional minority.

While Snowmass Town Council members often differ in their takes on other local issues — especially those related to smoking — the elected officials were unequivocal in their unanimous support of boosting the age.

Snowmass Town Council also agreed that it makes sense to get rid of self-service tobacco vending machines within the village. Currently there are two — one in the hallway at the back of Slow Groovin’ BBQ and one at Zane’s Tavern.

Snowmass chief of police Brian Olson, who attended the work session Monday to speak to the enforcement part of tobacco laws, supported the council’s direction.

“I just think that’s a no-brainer,” Olson said of banning the machines.

Should Snowmass bump the age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21, the town, not the state, will be responsible for enforcing these new laws.

While supportive, Olson made clear that, in terms of enforcing laws locally, he is not in favor of undergoing any “sting operations.”

“The undercover aspect of it that I’m just not a fan of in this small community,” Olson said, adding that the state can do so “until (its) heart’s content.”

Another change to upping the age to purchase tobacco products is that the town may lose the tax revenue it traditionally collects from the state for tobacco sales.

Snowmass Town Manager Clint Kinney at the work session estimated this loss in the amount of $15,000.

While other local governments like Aspen and Basalt have recently imposed increased tobacco taxes that will help offset the revenue loss, Kinney said, “adding a tax is not an option for us right now,” due to restrictions with TABOR. The earliest that Snowmass could alter its tobacco taxes, with voter approval, is a year from now.

Kinney and the council did not seem deterred by this potential loss.

“Let’s worry more about the health of the kids than $15,000,” Snowmass Mayor Markey Butler said.

With a consensus to move forward, Kinney said town staff will prepare a draft ordinance for council to consider at an upcoming meeting.

The date of that meeting is to be determined.

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