DENVER – Legislators failed Wednesday to raise Colorado’s smoking age to 21.
Rep. Daniel Kagan, D-Cherry Hills Village, provided the decisive vote when he joined six Republicans on the House Finance Committee to vote down the bill. All other Democrats on the panel voted to raise the smoking age, which is currently 18.
Kagan said there are better ways to reduce smoking among young people.
“I come down on the side of treating 18- to 20-year-olds as adults,” Kagan said.
But sponsors argued that most adults who smoke started young.
“This is a public health issue. It’s not really choice issue,” said Rep. Beth McCann, D-Denver, when she presented the bill to the committee last week. The panel ran out of time last week and concluded its hearing Wednesday.
Smoking costs Colorado taxpayers $300 million a year in Medicaid bills, and it costs the state economy more than $1 billion in lost productivity, said Jodi Radke of the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids.
“We should do everything we can to reduce the tobacco toll for the people of Colorado. Taxpayers should not be subsidizing an industry that addicts our kids,” Radke said.
Several opponents argued that at 18, people are old enough to fight in the military. One witness, combat veteran Brian Soule, said it’s insulting to say 18-year-olds aren’t mature enough to make important decisions.
“I’ve seen 18-year-old kids in firefights in 60 seconds have to make more life-and-death decisions than most Americans do in their lives,” Soule said.
House Bill 1263 would have made it a petty offense to sell tobacco to anyone under 21. It also would have been illegal for people under 21 to possess tobacco, but there would not have been a penalty.
Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, said the lack of a penalty would have made the bill meaningless.
“These young people out here are smarter than we are. They’ll find ways to get it if there is no penalty involved,” Wilson said.