Colorado Jumps on the 21 Bandwagon

Along with Utah, approves bills to raise the minimum tobacco purchase age

Cheri Gerou Colorado

Cheri Gerou

DENVER -- Last week, Colorado became the latest in a slew of states seeking to increase the minimum purchasing age for tobacco products to 21. According to an Associated Press report, Colorado's House Health, Insurance & Environment Committee approved the bill sponsored by State Representative Cheri Gerou (R) last Thursday--the same day Utah lawmakers approved a similar proposal.

Proponents argue that raising the minimum age to 21 will make it more difficult for teenagers to access tobacco products.

"What I'm hoping to do is make it harder for kids to obtain cigarettes," Gerou said on Thursday.

"By raising the age limit, it puts them in a situation where they're not going to pick it up until a much later age," Marla Brannum, a public health education technician at Utah County Tobacco Prevention, testified during the Utah hearing.

The push comes despite the fact that Colorado and Utah have very low rates of tobacco consumption: according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), just 18% of Colorado residents smoked in 2011; only 12% of Utah residents smoked in2011, making it the lowest smoking rate in the nation.

Advocates in both states said moving the purchase age to 21 would help further suppress those rates.

"Moving it to later, obviously we can help reduce use," Bob Doyle, head of the Colorado Tobacco Education & Prevention Alliance, testified in Colorado.

Both the Colorado and the Utah bills will have to be voted on several more times, but they are as far as any other statewide 21-to-purchase laws have gotten: Hawaii, Massachusetts and New Jersey all have pending bills and Maryland lawmakers recently rejected an increase to the minimum purchase age.

And while Armando Peruga, program manager of the World Health Organization's Tobacco Free Initiative, told AP he supported such measures, he clarified that they needed to be strictly enforced and accompanied by other control actions (like taxes or usage bans) in order to be successful

"It needs to be part of a comprehensive policy to counter the tobacco industry's influence on young people," said Peruga.