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Denver Votes To Raise Age To Buy Tobacco, Nicotine Products To 21

DENVER (CBS4) - The city of Denver voted to raise the age to buy tobacco to 21. City councilors discussed the topic at their meeting on Monday night.

(credit: CBS)

If the proposal passes, Denver would join eight other Colorado cities which raised the purchasing age. The proposal includes vape products like e-cigarettes and smokeless tobacco products.

The bill is part of an effort to reduce teen vaping.

Aspen, Avon, Basalt, Boulder, Carbondale, Edgewater, Glenwood Springs and Snowmass have all raised the purchasing age to 21.

Colorado has the highest rates of children and teens vaping in the nation and state health workers are investigating six cases of sudden and severe lung illness associated with vaping.

Republican State Rep. Colin Larson tells CBS4's Shaun Boyd he plans to introduce a bill with Democratic State Sen. Jeff Bridges to raise the legal purchasing age to 21 statewide. The bill would also set up a state licensing system for all nicotine sellers, meaning if they sell to minors repeatedly, they could lose their license.

New retailers cannot sell within a thousand feet of places like schools.

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Larson says the intent is to keep 18 and 19 year olds not only from buying for themselves, but their 14-, 15- and 16-year-old friends. While similar bills have failed in the past, the vaping epidemic has raised the stakes.

In all, 18 states have raised the minimum legal age to 21 that covers half of the U.S. population.

This summer, as hundreds of teens nationwide were diagnosed with a vaping-related lung disease, National Jewish Hospital in Colorado opened its nicotine quit line, for the first time, to kids as young as 12.

"It's kind of surprising and a little bit shocking the age of what they're calling in for support. Keep in mind by the time they call they'rel using these products for year or two already," said Thomas Ylioja, head of the Tobacco Cessation Program at National Jewish.

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A woman takes a call made to the National Jewish Quitlogix Line. (credit: CBS)

He says it doesn't take much for kids to become addicted.

"It could be as little as one or two times when somebody's usingit. When they're exposed to nicotine and want to go back to it, it's really acting on the centers in their brain already developed around emotional responses, and they don't have the same development in decision making and impulse control that would help them to stop using these products."

That is why Ylioja supports raising the age to buy nicotine to 21.

"If we're going to say there's a penalty for selling to minors, we have to make sure that we're enforcing it."

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Nayna Garcia, 19, says it won't work.

"Making it 21 just doesn't make sense to me. It's like, you can be 18 to go to war, but you have to be 21 to buy weed and drink," she said. "It's not going stop kids at all, they're going to find way. You can ask people, that's how I used to do it, I would just ask someone."

Ylioja disagrees, "Every step that we do is going to make some difference."

Since National Jewish opened its quit line to kids, it's received more than 200 calls, texts and online chat requests. The line is confidential.

While National Jewish is helping kids quit, the goal is to keep them from starting, something Garcia wishes she had done.

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A woman takes a call made to the National Jewish Quitlogix Line. (credit: CBS)

"I honestly hate that I smoke. It's kind of gross. I hate smelling like a cigarette all of the time. I plan on quitting by the time I'm 25 at least."

Right now, its a petty offense in most cities to sell nicotine to minors. Denver says half of its retailers have at least one violation and many of them have multiple violations.

LINK: National Jewish Quitlogix

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