Summit County to raise cigarette purchasing age to 21, establishes tobacco retail licensing
BRECKENRIDGE — The Summit Board of County Commissioners adopted new regulations for the retail sale and purchasing age of all nicotine and tobacco products sold in unincorporated county territory. The ordinance, which goes into effect Jan. 1, will require retailers to get a license to sell tobacco, nicotine or e-cigarette products as well as raise the legal age of purchase for those products to 21.
The ordinance puts the county in uniformity with regulations already established by the towns of Breckenridge, Frisco, Dillon and Silverthorne. The new regulations are meant to decrease the excessively high rate of underage vaping and smoking in Summit County, where high school students report a rate of recent e-cigarette or vape use of 40%, well above the state and national average.
In its reasoning for the ordinance, the county cites the statistics on underage tobacco and e-cigarette use, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting a more than 800% increase in electronic cigarette use among middle and high school students between 2011 and 2015.
The county noted that cigarettes are designed and manufactured to be addictive and lead to dependence, which is the intended outcome.
To justify raising the minimum age for purchasing cigarettes, tobacco or tobacco paraphernalia to 21, the county cited studies showing that about 96% of smokers start smoking before they reached age 21, with most beginning before age 16.
The higher purchasing age also would seek to stop the practice of 18-year-olds buying products for distribution to high school peers.
As far as the need for tobacco product retailer licensing at the county level, Summit County Public Health Director Amy Wineland noted in the county staff report that the lack of teeth on state regulations could be one of the drivers behind e-cigarettes being accessible to minors.
“With regard to retail licensing, currently only half of known retailers are checked every year by state level enforcement,” Wineland wrote. “That makes it harder to know when retailers are selling to minors and impossible to consistently enforce the age laws Colorado already has in place. So, while many tobacco retailers follow the law without a license, those that sell tobacco products illegally to minors face limited consequences.”
The ordinance would apply not only to retailers selling cigarettes, tobacco, e-cigarettes and tobacco products but also to the paraphernalia used to smoke tobacco or nicotine products, including “electronic smoking devices.” Electronic smoking devices includes any device “that can be used by an individual to simulate smoking in the delivery of nicotine or any other substance, even if marketed as nicotine-free, through inhalation from the product.”
The ordinance would thus apply to any retailer that sells rolling papers, vape pens, vape batteries and other electronic devices that could be used to smoke and inhale tobacco or nicotine-based products, even if the retailer does not sell any tobacco, nicotine or marijuana on-site. Selling these products without a tobacco retailer license would be considered a “nuisance” under law.
Those retailers would take on the same legal requirements of the ordinance, including needing to apply for a license, paying $600 for it each year, displaying a sign on their doors and complying with other regulatory requirements.
This also would mean marijuana dispensaries, which already are regulated to restrict access to minors and already pay retail marijuana business license fees, would have to apply and pay for a tobacco product retail license if they continue to sell products that can be used to smoke tobacco or inhale nicotine, even if those products are meant for cannabis.
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