Colorado won't hike tobacco age to 21

By: Associated Press
March 19, 2014 Updated: March 19, 2014 at 9:31 pm
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photo - A high school student, who preferred not to be identified, smokes a cigarette in a de facto smoking area just off the property of Lewis-Palmer High School, in Monument, Colo., Thursday Feb. 20, 2014. A proposal to raise the tobacco age to 21 in Colorado is up for its first review in the state Legislature. The bipartisan bill would make Colorado the first with a statewide 21-to-smoke law. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
A high school student, who preferred not to be identified, smokes a cigarette in a de facto smoking area just off the property of Lewis-Palmer High School, in Monument, Colo., Thursday Feb. 20, 2014. A proposal to raise the tobacco age to 21 in Colorado is up for its first review in the state Legislature. The bipartisan bill would make Colorado the first with a statewide 21-to-smoke law. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley) 

DENVER — Colorado lawmakers voted not to raise the tobacco age from 18 to 21 Wednesday, making Colorado the third state this year to consider but reject the higher smoking age.

The House Finance Committee rejected the proposal on a 7-6 vote.

The breakdown didn't fall on partisan lines, with a Democrat joining Republicans against the plan. One of the sponsors, meanwhile, is a Republican.

The Democrat who cast the deciding vote against the measure said that 18-year-olds are adults who should be persuaded not to smoke, not banned from smoking.

"Do we tell them, you may not do this, we're going to stop them? Or do we urge them to take responsibility for their actions and treat them like adults?" Rep. Daniel Kagan asked. "I come down on the side of treating 18-to-20-year-olds like adults."

House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, a fellow Denver Democrat, opposed the bill, too. He wasn't voting on the committee that rejected the measure, but his public hesitancy may have influenced the committee.

"I think the conversation on smoking and how we make sure that we protect our kids is an important conversation. As of right now, I do not support the bill. But there is division within both my caucus and the Republican caucus on that," Ferrandino told reporters before the vote.

Lawmakers in Maryland and Utah have already rejected proposals in those states to raise the smoking age. A 21-to-smoke bill is still pending in Massachusetts, but its prospects aren't clear.

The suggestions to raise the tobacco age have been inspired by new research on how many smokers start the habit as teenagers.

"The main point is accessibility, making it more difficult for young people to begin smoking," said Jodi Radke, regional advocacy director for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Opponents questioned whether raising the tobacco age would work.

"Kids aren't dumb," said Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida. He said of underage smokers. "They're going to get new friends at 21 to supply them."

Colorado already has one of the nation's lowest smoking rates, about 18 percent in 2011 according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Altria Group Inc., which owns the country's largest cigarette maker, Philip Morris USA, said in a statement last month that it supports 18 as the minimum age to buy tobacco.

The company, whose tobacco brands include Marlboro, Parliament and Virginia Slims, said states should wait until the federal Food and Drug Administration finishes a pending study of about raising the purchase age higher than 18.

"While we recognize that these are difficult issues, we believe Congress has established a thoughtful process for understanding the issue better, and we intend to engage in that process, with FDA, as it takes its course," the statement said.

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Associated Press Writer Ivan Moreno contributed to this report.

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House Bill 1263: http://bit.ly/1feqPKu

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