The City Council will hear a presentation tonight that considers raising Aspen's legal age to buy tobacco products and electronic nicotine devices from 18 to 21.
Pitkin County Medical Officer Kimberly Levin, who is championing the effort and will join Eric Brodell of the Prevention Tobacco Addition Foundation as tonight's presenters, said last week she hopes raising the age eventually will catch on with the rest of Colorado, which has a minimum age of 18 to buy tobacco.
"The hope is that there will be a domino effect and this will also go to the county and beyond," she said.
In both Hawaii and California, individuals must be 21 to legally purchase tobacco products. Hawaii was the first to raise the age Jan. 1, 2016; California followed suit June 9, 2016.
At least 225 U.S. localities — which include 144 in Massachusetts — also had the same standard as of April 7, according to the Campaign for Tobacco Free-Kids.
If Aspen joins the trend, it would be the first jurisdiction in Colorado to raise the minimum age. At least six retailers sell tobacco products in Aspen.
Levin also cites research by Tobacco 21, an Ohio-based nonprofit that advocates raising the age for tobacco consumption. Tobacco 21 literature refers to a 2015 study by the Institute of Medicine, which determined that by raising the age to 21 nationwide, the smoking rate would drop 12 percent while smoking-related deaths would drop by 10 percent over time.
Raising the age is not universally accepted, however.
After California raised the minimum age last year, an op-ed writer for The Los Angeles Times argued that the higher legal age didn't translate to a decrease in underage tobacco use in Massachusetts, which started cracking down on teen tobacco use in the 1990s.
"Strict enforcement of minimum-age laws did make it so fewer stores sold tobacco to minors. But surveys of high school students in those same communities revealed no effect on the ability of teens to get cigarettes and no reduction in the prevalence of smoking," wrote Mike Males, a senior researcher for San Francisco's Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. "In fact, there was an increase in teenage smoking compared with nearby communities that hadn't cracked down."
Tonight's work session will allow the council to review two proposed ordinances.
One ordinance, which covers one page, prohibits the sale of tobacco in Aspen to individuals younger than 21.
The second ordinance, described over 10 pages, is a bit trickier and concerns the creation of a licensing program for purveyors of electric cigarettes, more commonly referred to as e-cigarettes. The licensing program also would include regulating the sale of electronic nicotine delivery systems, which are called "ENDS" for short. That can include vape pens, e-hookahs and other devices.
The ordinance would require sellers of e-cigs and ENDS to be licensed by the city, which would set the minimum purchase age at 21. The license would not be allowed to be sold or transferred to other parties under the new ordinance. License holders also would be required to be at least 21 and could not sell the products within 500 feet of schools or youth-populated areas.
The city does not license sellers of tobacco products because it would forgo "certain tax revenue," according to a memo to the City Council from City Attorney Jim True and Environmental Health Director C.J. Oliver.
Levin said electronic smoking products have become "very hip" with the younger set and "are clearly marketed toward youth. There are over 7,000 flavors — bubble gum, cotton candy and apple —which are clearly for kids, not for adults."
Nicotine is the addictive agent in the e-cigs and other products, making it difficult for the young users to stop, she said.
"The brains of adolescents are developing and they are more likely to be addicted to a drug than an adult brain," Levin said.