Colorado Won't Be Raising the Smoking Age to 21

March 20, 2014

An ambitious bipartisan proposal to raise the minimum age requirement for buying cigarettes in Colorado was rejected in a House committee Wednesday amid concerns the bill infringed on the rights of young adults.

"I don't support it, but it's an important policy discussion to have. ... The idea of preventing someone from smoking who could go off to war doesn't seem right," said House Speaker Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, in a briefing before lawmakers on the House Finance committee rejected the bill on a 7-6 vote.

The measure would have prohibited anyone who is younger than 21 from purchasing or possessing cigarettes or tobacco products such e-cigarettes and chewing tobacco.

An underage person who buys a tobacco product would have committed a Class 2 petty offense and faced a $100 fine or community service under the proposal.

In February, the measure, sponsored by Reps. Beth McCann, D-Denver, and Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, passed out of the House Health and Environment committee.

"We recognize that this isn't going to solve the problem," Gerou said before the committee on Wednesday, but arguing that the measure could be a deterrent that keeps young people from smoking.

Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper did not take a position on the measure.

"We let 18-year-olds do everything else, but now we want to control some of their rights? It's not OK," said Rep. Janak Joshi, R-Colorado Springs, who voted against the bill.

No other states have such across-the-board age requirements, though New York City last fall did pass local legislation raising the age to purchase cigarettes to 21. In Alabama, Alaska, New Jersey and Utah, the age to purchase cigarettes is 19, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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