Pitkin County board supports tobacco law changes
Hot on the heels of their colleagues in Denver, Pitkin County commissioners Tuesday unanimously expressed support for raising the county’s minimum age for buying tobacco or nicotine products to 21.
County board members, however, went even further and mirrored their peers on Aspen City Council to also support a ban on flavored tobacco products, which will include flavored chewing tobacco and menthol cigarettes that have been available for decades.
“I certainly support this,” said Commissioner George Newman, adding that he wanted to see the word “vaping” in the county’s ban “to raise awareness.”
When Pitkin County enacts the ban, it will close one of the last remaining pockets in the Roaring Fork Valley where those younger than 21 can purchase tobacco or products containing nicotine. Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs have already raised the age, while Eagle County’s increase of minimum age limit goes into effect Nov. 1.
Garfield County commissioners are looking at raising the age and banning flavored nicotine products.
Denver City Council on Monday unanimously voted to raise the minimum age for tobacco and nicotine products from 18 to 21 years old, with fines for retailers that violate the new law.
Pitkin County commissioners agreed in July to ask voters in November 2020 to increase the per pack price by $3.20 to keep pace with the city of Aspen’s tax, which was passed by 75% of city voters in April 2018 and climbs by 10 cents annually for the next nine years. Glenwood Springs and Eagle and Summit counties have each proposed a $4 per pack tobacco tax in November 2020 that voters will decide.
Finally, Aspen, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs have all banned flavored nicotine products. All three municipalities, however, exempted “tobacco-flavored” nicotine products and flavored smoking cessation products from the ban, said Rita Turetsky of Pitkin County Public Health.
Those two products could help smokers, who clearly benefit from quitting and likely benefit from the switch to nicotine vaping devices. Cigarettes are, by far, the worst and most dangerous tobacco product around, she said.
“There are far fewer chemicals in e-cigarettes than in regular cigarettes,” Turetsky said, though she added that the long-term affects of vaping are not yet known. “But if they’re switching over (from cigarettes to vaping devices) there’s no reason they need crème brulee or bubblegum (flavored vapes).”
Those flavors appeal predominantly to young people, she said, which is one of the main reasons behind the flavored ban.
Colorado’s rate of youth nicotine vaping is twice the national average and the highest in the United States, Turetsky said. A 2017 high school survey found that 53% of students between Aspen and Parachute had tried vaping.
At Aspen High School, more than 58% of respondents in the 2017 survey said they’d tried vaping, she said. Rates of cigarette and chewing tobacco use at AHS also are high.
“Kids say they can’t go into the bathrooms (at school) because everyone is vaping,” Turetsky said.
Pitkin County also is looking at increasing enforcement of the new tobacco laws, with fines and frequency of compliance checks to be worked out later. The minimum age limit and flavor ban will go into effect once the Pitkin County board passes the ordinances, which hasn’t yet been scheduled.
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