By Rick Sallinger

DENVER (CBS4) – The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment reports 27% of Colorado high school students said that they had vaped in a recent one month period. Almost half of those said they bought the items in stores or internet. The minimum legal age for selling nicotine vape materials is being raised in different communities, but enforcing that is often easier said than done.

(credit: CBS)

Teens in Denver are legally too young to vape, but CBS4’s Rick Sallinger recently found some on a corner across from a school doing just that. He asked one 16-year-old “Is it hard to get hold of vaping cartridges?”

“Not at all, not at all, it’s easier to get nicotine cartridges than it is cigarettes,” the teenager replied.

But the law makes it illegal to buy nicotine unless you’re 21 in Denver now, and 18 in other places.

Sallinger asked the teen “Are you addicted?”

“Yeah, yeah,” said the teenager.

Records CBS4 obtained show store after in Denver were busted in undercover operations by the city’s Department of Public Health & Environment using an undercover teen to buy vape pods.

(credit: CBS)

A Sinclair gas station on Santa Fe is just one of locations that sold to him.

Ali Sadeghi Asi is the station owner. He was ordered to pay a $750 fine, but came to court recently to fight it.

Ali Sadeghi Asi

CBS4’s Rick Sallinger interviews Ali Sadeghi Asi. (credit: CBS)

Sallinger walked up to him outside the courtroom and asked “They say you sold vaping materials to underage buyers?” Asi replied, “I did not sell to any underage buyers, it’s one of our employees.”

The city showed CBS4 its evidence. Two packages of vaping cartridges were purchased on two separate occasions. They were sold to someone under the legal age.

(credit: CBS)

(credit: CBS)

Natalee Salcedo, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Health & Environment, says they have a vigorous enforcement procedure that started in January 2017. An inspector is joined by a minor who goes into different shops to see if they sell tobacco-related products to those underage,

“They work for us about a year then typically age out of the program but they work with us while they are under 18,” she said.

Fines range from $250 to $999 depending on the number of offenses a particular location has had in a period of time. Licenses are suspended in some cases in Denver. She said they try to get to all sellers multiple times a year.

Outside of Denver, the state and federal government handle the enforcement. There, CBS4 found when stores were busted using a similar technique the punishment consisted of a warning letter. In a few cases fines of $250 to $500 were issued.

That’s not enough, according to mothers who are trying to tackle the vaping problem in Boulder. Joelle Rossback told CBS4 in her area more can be done with enforcement.

“Quite frankly I would kind of be comfortable saying it’s kind of a joke. A $50 fine and these folks make a lot more money knowing they are selling to minors,” she said.

All vape stores CBS4 contacted insisted they do not sell to underage buyers. But one vaping teen told CBS4 all he has to do is hand the clerk a little extra cash. And there are other ways for kids to get it.

“They also buy it over the web from China and stuff. It doesn’t have good chemicals in it, and I don’t even know what chemicals are in that,” the 16-year-old vaper said.

As hard as authorities try, their efforts to prevent underage vape sales often are going up in smoke.

Rick Sallinger

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