By Shawn Chitnis

DENVER (CBS4)– The City and County of Denver Department of Public Health & Environment wants to raise the legal age to buy tobacco and nicotine products to 21. It’s a step health officials say will prevent thousands of teens from accessing these products.

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“If somebody wants it they’ll end up getting it,” said Johann Gottschalk, the manager of Hush Vapor Lounge.

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City leaders say usage of tobacco and nicotine products in increasing rapidly and research shows those who try e-cigarettes are more likely to smoke tobacco later in life. The policy change could stop the trend and promote public health, according to the health department.

Johann Gottschalk (credit: CBS)

“I don’t think that’s fair, I’m personally 19 and I’d be out of a job,” said Gottschalk. “I don’t see that three years making a huge difference.”

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He started smoking when he was 16 and eventually switched to vape products. He says they are now a part of his daily life, both for work and personal use. He worries that teens can still sidestep this change by asking someone older to buy them the products they want.

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“You could just have your friend who is 21 go into a vape store while you stand outside and I check his ID,” said Gottschalk.

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The new law would not only raise the legal age from 18, it would also remove the sale of tobacco products from vending machines. One of the concerns related to vape products is the variety of flavors, options that can appeal to young teens.

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But, Gottschalk says the emphasis needs to be on enforcement of the current law.

“Start with gas stations, convenience stores, the places right around here in this area, I can tell you, they don’t check ID very much,” he said.

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The health department says because all tobacco products are harmful and the nicotine in those items is highly addictive. Tobacco is the leading cause of lunch cancer in the U.S. and Nicotine affects the developing the brain. According to DDPHE, 33 percent of Colorado high school students have used tobacco products and 23 percent of high school students in Denver have used tobacco products.

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Seven states already use the “Tobacco 21” policy and 440 local governments have raised the age to 21, according to the health department.

The policy will go before the Denver City Council committee for Safety, Housing, Education & Homelessness on Wednesday, April 3.

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“It’s not going to matter if you raise the age by three years, people are already going to want the product,” said Gottschalk.

Shawn Chitnis

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