Legislature

Bill seeks to ban cigarette sales to those under 21

Some lawmakers call it a `nanny state' measure

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Cigarette sales to persons under 21 would be illegal under a bipartisan bill that is making its way through the Legislature.

But whether the measure becomes law is another story as the effort is certain to receive push back from members of the bill sponsor's own party who say the prohibition is an example of “nanny state” government.

State Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, calls her effort to make it more difficult for kids to smoke “a battle worth having.”

Right now, persons who are at least 18 can purchase and possess cigarettes. That would change under Gerou's bill.

The bill provides a grandfather clause for those who are 18 when the law would go into effect on July 1.

“We're not going to change the habits of people 18, that's why we put in the grandfather clause,” Gerou said. “The point of the bill is to take it out of high schools.”

Gerou said that 90 percent of people who smoke into adulthood pick up the habit when they are young teenagers. Gerou's bill aims to put a dent in the number of youths who begin smoking at young ages.

“Granted, they're still going to find out a way to get (cigarettes), but if we can diminish that, that's the point of the bill,” she said.

Gerou said the bill could be amended to allow persons under 21 to smoke if they have a military I.D.

A Senate Republican, Steve King of Grand Junction, and two Democrats have joined as co-sponsors of the bill, which recently passed the Democrat majority House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee following a party-line vote.

The bill has to pass through a couple more committees before it reaches the House floor.

But some Republicans see the bill as government overreach.

“It just seems to me that we're trying to prohibit each and every thing that has been the norm in society for some time,” said Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs. “It's the equivalent to prohibition to me.”

Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, echoed Gardner's sentiments.

“I think it is increasing troubling that we are limiting choice for law-abiding citizens,” he said. “Does that mean I lack compassion for kids who get cancer? No, but its not the proper role of government to make those decisions for people, especially adults.”

The bill faces a tough road, if a recent House vote on a separate “nanny state” effort provides any indication.

The House recently passed a bill that would ban youths under 18 from using tanning beds. All GOP members, including Gerou, joined four Democrats in voting against the bill. The bill will face a tough road in the Senate.

Gerou said she is “fully expecting” arguments against her bill that were similar to those made against the tanning bill.

“I'm expecting to be beaten up about it,” Gerou said. “I always survive. I don't know if the bill will, but it's a battle worth having.”