Town of Snowmass looks to increase age to buy tobacco products to 21

Erica Robbie
Snowmass Sun
A carton of cigarettes at the Daly Bottle Shop Jan. 17.
Anna Stonehouse/Snowmass Sun

Two Snowmass businesses recently increased the age that patrons may purchase tobacco products to 21, while two other village retailers soon will join the club.

Pitkin County health officials and Snowmass Town Council at a meeting Feb. 4 continued talk of boosting the age to buy tobacco products and the overwhelming use of e-cigarette among adolescents both nationally and locally.

“Teen vaping is astronomical in this community,” said Pitkin County public health director Karen Koenemann, adding that the department “is feeling a sense of urgency.”

Vaping is the act of using an e-cigarette, or an e-cig, to inhale nicotine.

According to a study from the county public health department, more than 73 percent of Aspen High School juniors reported using an e-cig before.

The most popular e-cig among teenagers right now is the Juul, said Risa Turetsky, a tobacco specialist with the county public health.

Known for their sleek, cool packaging and aesthetic, Juuls “have captured about 70 percent of the youth market,” Turetsky told council at the first tobacco-related work session Nov. 12.

Since that initial discussion, Sundance Liquor and Gifts and Snowmass Conoco changed their policies so that only customers 21 and older may buy tobacco products.

The public health officials commended the businesses’ decisions, which they deemed as somewhat unprecedented.

“I don’t know if (another) retailer has taken this stance on their own … to step fourth and do this on their own, it’s incredible,” Pitkin County medical officer Dr. Kimberly Levin said to council at the meeting. Levin hopes they will inspire other businesses to follow.

The other two retailers that sell tobacco products in Snowmass are Daly Bottle Shop on the main level of the mall and Clark’s Express in Base Village.

Acknowledging the loss of business from the 18- to 20-year-old demographic, Levin rationed that retailers hold “a social responsibility to forgo” the revenue.

Based upon conversations with local businesses, she estimated the loss to be somewhere around two percent.

With all five council members on board with bumping the age and an ordinance in the works, any business that sells tobacco products in Snowmass will soon be required to relinquish those dollars.

The Roaring Fork Valley has been at the forefront of amending tobacco laws over the past year, with Aspen being the first municipality statewide to up the age.

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

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

While the use of e-cigs among youth is on the rise nationally, Colorado high school and middle school students vape at twice the national average, according to a recent study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“I think we should take a stance in Snowmass Village and say, ‘If you’re under 21, this is not a place for you to smoke,’” Snowmass Police Chief Brian Olson said.

In addition to the county health specialists’ recommendations, Olson urged the Snowmass elected officials to also consider adding a possession clause to the town’s tobacco laws.

Regulating possession or imposing laws associated with possession is less common, Snowmass Town Manager Clint Kinney Kinney said in a conversation after the meeting. Neither Colorado nor Snowmass Village boast any possession laws to date.

“I think it sends a strong message,” Olson said.

Another change to increasing the age to purchase is that the town could lose the tax revenue it would traditionally collect from the state for tobacco sales.

Kinney estimated the loss in the amount of $15,000.

Some local governments, like Aspen and Basalt, recently imposed increased tobacco taxes to offset the revenue loss.

As far as Snowmass goes, Kinney said, “We understand the ramifications, but we’re not currently looking at adding a new tax.”

Following the meeting, town staff will continue crafting an ordinance to return before council for approval in the near future.

The date had not yet been set as of the Snowmass Sun’s press time.


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