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Denver Acts to Protect Kids, Save Lives by Raising Tobacco Age to 21, Adopting Tobacco Retail Licensure

Statement of Matthew L. Myers, President, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
October 01, 2019

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Denver City Council and Mayor Michael Hancock have acted to protect kids from tobacco addiction and save lives by raising the sale age of tobacco products in the city to 21. The city is providing strong leadership in the fight against tobacco – the No. 1 preventable cause of death – and setting a terrific example for Colorado and the nation. Increasing the tobacco age to 21 will help prevent young people from using tobacco, save lives and help combat the growing youth e-cigarette epidemic.

Raising the tobacco age to 21 is an important component of a comprehensive strategy to reverse the youth e-cigarette epidemic and continue reducing tobacco use. It is also critical that policy makers at all levels prohibit the sale of all flavored tobacco products – including flavored e-cigarettes, cigars and menthol cigarettes. Cities and states have been fighting the flavored products that have helped fuel the youth e-cigarette epidemic. Colorado has one of the nation’s highest rates of youth e-cigarette use with over 26% of high school students using e-cigarettes.

Denver’s action provides another major boost for the nationwide movement to increase the tobacco age to 21. To date, 18 states, Washington, D.C., and at least 500 localities have enacted Tobacco 21 laws. The Denver measure is among the strongest in the nation with some of the most robust enforcement for a Tobacco 21 law, including tobacco retail licensure to help ensure compliance.

Increasing the tobacco age to 21 will reduce tobacco use among youth and young adults – age groups when nearly all tobacco use begins and that are heavily targeted by the tobacco industry. We know that about 95 percent of adult smokers began smoking before they turned 21. We also know that tobacco companies spend $9.4 billion a year – more than $1 million every hour – to market their deadly and addictive products, much of it aimed at young people. A 2015 report by the National Academy of Medicine concluded that increasing the tobacco sale age to 21 would yield substantial public health benefits, with immediate and long-term benefits for the nation’s health.

Tobacco use kills over 480,000 Americans and costs the nation about $170 billion in health care bills each year. In Colorado, tobacco kills 5,100 people and costs over $1.8 billion in health care expenses each year. Increasing the tobacco age to 21 is a critical step in reducing and eventually eliminating tobacco’s terrible toll.