The Denver City Council raised the minimum age to buy tobacco from 18 to 21 Monday night in an effort to keep teens from using cigarettes and vaporized nicotine.
The law, which comes amid a national teen vaping crisis, covers all substances containing nicotine and any electronic devices to consume them. And nearly 600 known tobacco retailers in Denver will need to get a new license to keep selling such products.
“I have a senior in high school, and their ability to get tobacco products is real,” Councilwoman Amanda Sandoval said before voting for the policy.
All council members cast “aye” votes, except for Councilwoman Kendra Black, who was absent.
Denver will join 18 states and more than 500 other U.S. cities and towns — including eight in Colorado — that have boosted the minimum age to buy tobacco to 21, reports the national nonprofit Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
Michael Mayor Hancock is to sign the bill into law Tuesday, and it takes effect immediately.
City officials plan to visit all tobacco retailers before Jan. 1 to discuss the change, but stores won't get formal citations for selling to underage buyers until next year, said Tristan Sanders of the Denver Department of Public Health & Environment.
In Denver, selling tobacco to minors is punishable by fines of $250 to $999, depending on prior violations. If a business has a second violation within a year, its right to sell the products can be suspended for 30 days. Four or more violations can result in a year-long suspension on sales. Those penalties will remain the same under the new law.
The new licensing rules will require that retailers are at least 1,000 feet from schools and city-owned recreation centers and pools. Existing stores could be exempted from those restrictions if they apply for a license by July 1.
The additional licensing requirements will help Denver “hold retailers accountable” for selling nicotine products to minors, Sanders said.
The stores will be provided with signage showing the new age requirement to be posted on registers, counters, doors and windows.
Smoking kills about 500,000 adults every year in America, and about 95% of them started smoking before turning 21, according to the Denver Department of Public Health & Environment.
The 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey reported that about 23% of Denver high school students were using nicotine products. About 85% of students perceive smoking tobacco products as risky, but only 45% said they think vaping is risky, according to the survey.
Yet vaporized products still contain highly addictive nicotine as well as other ingredients that often are unidentified.
Two Colorado lawmakers might introduce a bill to raise the statewide minimum age for tobacco purchases to 21, The Denver Post reported last month. State Rep. Colin Larson, R-Littleton, and state Sen. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, discussed changing the age requirement but had yet to draft a bill or meet with stakeholders, according to The Post.
In other business, the Denver City Council:
• Amended the city’s historic preservation law to give developers, residents and landowners more time to work out a compromise in the case that a property owner opposes that property’s landmark designation.
The changes come in the wake of the controversy over Tom’s Diner, a 52-year-old diner on East Colfax Avenue.
When news surfaced that Tom Messina wanted to sell the establishment to a developer, a group sought historic preservation status for the restaurant. The residents later withdrew that request, saying they instead intended to work with Messina and the developer to find another solution for the site.
The amendments to the landmark law, drafted by a city task force, also add a category of "culture" to the criteria for considering potential landmarks to encourage residents to seek more designations in racially and economically diverse neighborhoods.
• OK’d a $16.75 million settlement with the Denver Rock Island Railroad that city officials have said is key to the National Western Center expansion.
The settlement will allow for the relocation of nearly three miles of railroad track that cut through the project site, near Interstate 70 and Brighton Boulevard. The agreement will also clear the way for roughly six acres along the South Platte River to become open space for center visitors and the public.
• Declared support for Proposition CC, a statewide ballot measure that will ask for voter approval this fall to permanently remove Colorado’s revenue cap under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights to provide more funding for transportation and education.
The resolution passed by the council states that the cap, along with “overlapping constitutional amendments” has “hindered the ability of the state legislature formulate an equitable budget.”