DENVER (CBS4) – Right now 18 is the magic age for gambling and buying tobacco, but the age to buy cigarettes could soon change in Colorado.

Lawmakers are debating raising the age for buying cigarettes and the bill could pass. It has a Democratic and Republican sponsor in each chamber. The legislation would make it illegal for anyone under age 21 to buy not only cigarettes, but e-cigarettes and chewing tobacco.

It’s estimated nearly 90 percent of smokers begin smoking before age 21. State Rep. Beth McCann, D-Denver, says its time Colorado made it more difficult for them to start.

“The thing about tobacco is it’s very addictive, so if you get started when young it’s very difficult to quit, and we know tobacco smoking is harmful, it causes cancer,” McCann said.

McCann has introduced the bill that would raise the legal age to buy cigarettes in Colorado from 18 to 21. While the legislation has support from Democrats and Republicans, it also has opposition from both.

“This is part of a bigger conversation about how we treat 18, 19 and 20 year olds in our country and in our state,” said Rep. Jonathan Singer, D-Longmont.

As a former drug and alcohol abuse counselor, Singer says he understands the health concerns. Teenagers who smoke are more likely to do other drugs and are at a higher risk for lung disease, and on average will die younger. But Singer says our laws send mixed messages about what we trust young people to do.

“If you’re 18 and we trust you to die for our country, we trust you to take other people’s lives for our country, but at the same time we don’t trust you with cigarettes, it seems very backwards,” Singer said.

“Well, you know, we don’t allow people to buy alcohol under 21. We don’t allow them to buy marijuana under 21, and so tobacco in some instances is just as harmful if not more harmful,” McCann said.

Under the legislation it would be a petty offense to buy tobacco under the age of 21 or sell tobacco to an underage person. Anyone who is already 18 as of June 30 would be grandfathered in.

Gov. John Hickenlooper says he’s still reviewing the bill.

Last year New York City raised the age to 21. Utah and Maryland are also considering raising it.


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