Colorado is the latest state to change its laws to make 21 the minimum age to purchase tobacco products, as Gov. Jared Polis signed HB20-1001 into law on Tuesday, with the increase taking effect immediately.
The bill brings the state into compliance with the federal minimum age to purchase tobacco products, which was signed into law in December 2019 by President Trump as part of a spending bill. However, since enforcement of such laws are generally handled at the local level, states, counties and cities have had to revise their current laws to allow for enforcement. It will also help keep the state eligible for federal grant money earmarked for reducing tobacco use.
While the bill raises the minimum age to purchase tobacco, it also repeals the criminal penalty for purchasing or attempting to purchase the products as a minor. Under the previous law, a minor could be convicted of a class 2 petty offense subject to a $100 fine.
The bill also deals with several retail-related regulations, namely requiring that every retailer of tobacco products in the state be licensed as of July 1, 2021, with licenses likely to cost no more than $400 per year, but which could increase to $600 if statewide compliance rates fall below a 90 percent threshold. New tobacco retailers will be prohibited within 500 feet of a school, while retailers that sell electronic smoking device products will be prohibited from advertising those products in a manner that is visible from outside the retail location.
Certain fines for violating the law will see a significant increase, as the monetary fine for a fifth violation within 24 months jumps from $1,000 to $15,000, as does the penalty for a fourth violation within 36 months of an initial violation. It also implements temporary suspensions of a retailer’s license, starting with a seven-day suspension for two violations within a 36-month period, which then increases to 30 days for a third violation in that same time frame. A subsequent violation would cost the retailer its license for three years.
Retailers are also now prohibited from permitting a person under 18 years of age to sell or participate in the sale of tobacco products, and the minimum number of annual compliance checks required of each retail location will increase to two per year or at least the minimum number annually required by federal regulation, whichever number is greater.
The age to present identification before purchasing tobacco products is also going up, as retailers are now required to check the identification of any person who appears to be under 50-years-old before selling them a tobacco product.
HB20-1001 passed the Senate by a 22-12 vote in early June, while the House of Representatives approved it in March by a 39-22 vote.