Avon council approves measure that raises the tobacco purchasing age to 21
AVON — The age to purchase tobacco products in town will likely rise to 21 in 2019 after the Town Council approved the idea on Tuesday, Aug. 14.
The first reading of an ordinance to change the town’s municipal code received unanimous approval from the six town council members present at its regular meeting this week. Council member Matt Gennett was absent. The ordinance will also establish a licensing system for tobacco retailers which would give the town more authority in enforcing the new age law.
When a town chooses to license tobacco retailers, that town then forgoes revenues from the state on tobacco sales and also must create a licensing administrator position at the town. In Avon, the licensing administrator is likely to be the town clerk, and the proposed $500 per year licensing fee is expected to cover the cost of administering the licensing program.
The state revenues, however, will not be restored to the town’s budget without the creation of an additional tax on cigarettes.
Over the past five years, the distribution of state income tax money to Avon from tobacco sales ranged from $41,234 to $43,200.
“I’m not concerned about losing $42,000 of revenue when we look at a $10 million sales tax budget, $30 million total budget for this town,” said council member Scott Prince. “$42,000 is not going to materially impact us.”
Nevertheless, council members will still ask voters in November if they desire recoup that loss in revenue through the creation of an additional tax on cigarettes. The details of that ballot question will be presented at the next council meeting, Tuesday, Aug. 28.
Vaping in the bathroom
Members of the community spoke out mostly in favor of the idea to raise the tobacco age as a response to the recent uptick in use of e-cigarettes among youth in the community.
Local student David Reilly said in recent years, the use of electronic nicotine vaporizing products has exploded at Battle Mountain High School, where Reilly is a senior.
“My freshman year, it wasn’t really a thing. Sophomore year it became bigger and then last year I couldn’t go to the bathroom without seeing three or four kids vaping in the bathroom,” Reilly said. “I can speak for a lot of kids, they don’t know a lot of 19-, 20-, 21-year-old kids that would be willing to buy these products. Their friends are 18 … if they can’t get (tobacco products) for them, then they’re not going to get it.”
Reilly said for older students, buying and selling e-cigs is a profitable endeavor.
“There’s tons of 18-year-old seniors in my high school, and these seniors … you either get a job or you’re going to go buy these products for your friends and make a bunch of money,” Reilly said.
Reilly was asked by the council if kids were still going to get the products from the internet, and if raising prices would deter kids from purchasing the nicotine-enhanced liquid used in their vaporizers.
“It might actually work in reverse, because if these products get more expensive, then I feel like kids might buy them more to sell them more, for the younger crowd, because they’re more valuable,” he said. “It’s going to be very hard to fight the internet, but … a lot of kids won’t say ‘I’m thinking about buying a Juul’ (an e-cigarette brand) and be on the fence and then order one online, because that’s going to take time … and they’d need a credit card and they need to ship it to the house.”
Councilman Jake Wolf was the most hesitant to vote in favor of the ordinance, questioning whether or not it would actually help.
“The government shouldn’t be responsible to educate your friends, to educate your kids,” he said. “It takes the education system, but most importantly, the parents of those kids, because they’re going to get the stuff from somewhere else.”
In response, Mandy Ivanov with Eagle County Public Health said the government’s job is to protect the health, safety and welfare of its community members.
“And that’s what this ordinance is striving to do,” she said. “We know that the tobacco industry does target 15- to 17-year-olds, specifically.”
David Reilly’s mother, who also spoke at the meeting, said parents could indeed use some help from the government.
“I can’t really compete with a bathroom full of his best friends that are experimenting with new things,” she said. “Parents need the additional support of policy.”
A local attorney said he sees similarities between last week’s chairlift death of a New Jersey man, and a case he won against Vail Resorts 20 years ago.