Steamboat Springs City Council weighs tobacco licenses |

Steamboat Springs City Council weighs tobacco licenses

Noncigarette sales topic of new rule

Jack Weinstein

— Morgan Mertz said it's common for students at Steamboat Springs High School to use or try noncigarette tobacco products.

That's why the soon-to-be senior, a member of the Steamboat Springs Teen Council, has worked on a proposal that would require retailers to get an annual license to sell those products. The Northwest Colorado Visiting Nurse Association, with Grand Futures Prevention Coalition, approached the city about a possible ordinance.

The Steamboat Springs City Council is scheduled to consider the second reading of the noncigarette tobacco retailer license Tuesday night.

"I know a lot of people who have tried or who are addicted to it," Mertz said about noncigarette tobacco products. "It just sucks to see people who are addicted to it and want to quit but don't know how."

Changing behaviors

VNA Community Health Educator Vicki Barron, a registered nurse, said that according to the 2010 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, 31 percent of males at the high school reported using smokeless tobacco in the previous 30 days.

Barron said the state's high school Youth Risk Behavior Survey in 2009 indicated that 60 percent of teens who tried to buy tobacco were able to.

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Locally, according to information given to Barron by the Colorado Department of Revenue, she said five Steamboat retailers failed tobacco compliance checks. But Barron said she wasn't told how many compliance checks were conducted at Steamboat's 20 estimated retailers.

By requiring that retailers pay an annual fee and providing education to their employees, Barron said she thinks youth noncigarette tobacco use will decrease. The effort also will include education at Steamboat schools.

"If we can eliminate one way from using tobacco before they're adults, we might be able to prevent them from ever using it at all," she said.

Barron said more than 65 percent of Steamboat parents who participated in a recent community survey supported tobacco and noncigarette tobacco licensing.

Because Colorado distributes revenues from the state cigarette tax to incorporated cities and towns, with the condition that no other fees, licenses or taxes are imposed on retailers, the ordinance can't include cigarettes.

The cost

The proposed ordinance would require retailers to pay an annual $130 fee.

Steamboat Springs police Capt. Joel Rae said the fees would pay for administration of the program, including paying youths to help with compliance checks. As it is proposed, he said the businesses would be checked two or three times a year.

Rae said failure would require another check within 30 days. He said a retailer's high rate of compliance would lead to fewer checks, as is the case with liquor retailers.

"Now that we're getting close to 100 percent compliance every time, we're only doing it once or twice a year," he said.

However, a first failed compliance check results in a $100 fine, a second is $200, a third is $300 and a fourth is $400. Three or more violations in a year could result in suspension or revocation of a license, according to the proposed ordinance.

"Our goal is to provide education, so we'd hope never to get to that third or fourth offense," Barron said.

Rae has told the City Council that Steamboat's noncigarette tobacco retailers were 94 to 100 percent compliant in recent years.

Mixed opinions

The City Council, by a 6-1 vote, approved the first reading June 21. City Council President Cari Hermacinski opposed the motion. She questioned whether the ordinance was necessary with high compliance rates.

Several health professionals, educators and youth organization leaders expressed support for the program in letters to the City Council. So did a retailer of noncigarette tobacco products.

"Underage tobacco use is certainly a problem," Space Station Owner Eric Dorris wrote in a letter to the City Council. "I personally started tobacco use at the age of 12. It took me almost 25 years to quit. I believe that efforts to stop the use of tobacco by minors should be embraced at the local level."

In his letter, Dorris said he supports most of the ordinance, but it includes some parts he thinks wouldn't be useful to curb youth tobacco use. He asked that the ordinance be thoughtful and balanced.

Not all retailers support the ordinance. Denise Peterson, who owns the southside Shell station, said it's just another tax. Instead, she said, why not ban tobacco?

"They're penalizing the wrong people for a product that's known to be hazardous to your health," Peterson said.

Although Mertz is hopeful that an ordinance would reduce youth noncigarette tobacco use, she's not convinced. Mertz said she didn't think it would get rid of the issue completely.

"I still think if kids want it that badly, they'll find a way to get it through somebody they know or an adult or something," she said. "I definitely think it's a good start. It's way too easy to get a hold of noncigarette tobacco."

To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email

Agenda highlights

■ 4:30 p.m. Executive session to discuss personnel matters

■ 5 p.m. Steamboat Springs Liquor Authority meeting

■ 5:10 p.m. Proclamation honoring the Fourth of July fireworks crew, a resolution ratifying the agreement with Routt County to hold a municipal election Nov. 1, first reading of an lease extension with SmartWool, first reading of an ordinance to ask voters to consider a .25 percent sales tax to support commercial air service at Yampa Valley Regional Airport and a second reading of an ordinance to extend the commercial rafting season

■ 7 p.m. Public comment, second reading of a revised noise ordinance

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