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Gazette Premium Content Colorado House committee votes to raise tobacco age to 21

The Associated Press Updated: February 20, 2014 at 7:05 pm

DENVER - Colorado would raise the tobacco age to 21 under a bill that won approval in a House committee Thursday.

The bipartisan bill could make Colorado the first with a statewide 21-to-smoke law. It passed the House Health, Insurance, and Environment Committee on a 6-4 party-line vote, with all Republicans opposed despite the proposal's Republican sponsor.

"What I'm hoping to do is make it harder for kids to obtain cigarettes," said Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen.

People who are currently between the ages of 18 and 20 would be grandfathered in, meaning the measure wouldn't be fully implemented until today's 17-year-olds are 21.

A Senate committee in Utah passed a similar 21-to-smoke bill Thursday.

Both proposals face several more votes. But they're the farthest any states have gone to curb access to cigarettes by teens.

Three more states - Hawaii, Massachusetts and New Jersey - have pending bills, though none of them have cleared committee. Maryland lawmakers already rejected a bill to hike the tobacco age.

It's not clear how many of Colorado's current smokers are younger than 21. However, a paper published last year in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine said that 9 out of 10 daily smokers have their first cigarette by 18 years of age, and that about 90 percent of cigarettes purchased for minors are obtained by people between 18 and 20 years old.

"Tobacco companies market to children and young adults because they know young people are more susceptible to their products," testified Dr. Karen Wilson, a pediatrician from the Children's Hospital Colorado.

The committee sided with health professionals despite testimony from several visiting high school students who said they doubted the change would reduce underage smoking.

"I honestly don't think it's going to stop kids," testified 16-year-old Abrian Sabo of Skyline High School in Longmont.

A fiscal projection prepared for Colorado lawmakers projected the change would cost the state about $5.6 million in lost tobacco tax revenue in its first full year of implementation.

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