When Gerry Lopez signed up for a statweide substance prevention conference last May with Fellow students whore are involved with the Youth Leader Council program at Eagle River YOutuh Coalition (ERYC), he couldn’t have predicted the outcome. ERYC executive Director Michelle Stecher gave the students free rein to pick the sessions htey wanted to attend. Two student attendees, Evan FitxCharles and David Riley, joined a discussion led by a group from Aspen. The topic was Tobacco 21 (T21) legislation and thats when something clickled.
The object of the T21 legislation is to raise the legal age for purchasing tobaco products from age 18 to 21. In just three months following the conference, Lopez, FitzCharles and Riley found themselves presenting their casefor passing the bill to the Avon Town Council. “I’m looking out for my peers because I want them to be able to succeed and have as many barriers in their path,” says Lopez. “It’s about being a healthy as possible and not putting anything in your body that’s meant to slow you down.”
Five states have have already passed T21 with several more expected to follow suit, “movement sweeping the country,” as Stecher puts it. The Twon of Avon passed the bill unanimously and interest is growing rapidly in Vail, Eagle and Gypsum.
Tobacco Reclaimed attention ago as vaping nicotine exploded. It is a wide misconception that vaping nicotine is less dangerous than smoking cigarettes. In fact, stecher shared that one reliable vape cartridge can be equivalent of an entire pack of cigarettes. New vaping paraphernalia makes it easy for kids as young as fourth grade to high school camouflage their vaping. They’ve been found vaping on school property – in bathrooms, at sporting events, even the classroom.
Adolescent brains are uniquely vulnerable to addiction – and 26 percent of Colorado high school students used e-cigarettes in the past month according to Stecher and the Implications are alarming. “Why are we not using this information in a healthy manner and postponing the legal age for purchasing tobacco?” she asks. “It took us a long time to figure out tobacco cessation. It took us decades to get scientific research to prove why tobacco is bad. I just don’t think people make that link, and I feel like it’s a huge step backwards.”
At the moment, Lopez and fellow ERYC Youth Leader Council member Lilly Reynolds, whom he calls “the face of the movement,” have a bill on the desk of Governor Jared Polis. If signed, beginning July 1, counties will have the authority to pass their own T21 legislation, and town mayors and managers will have the ability to set parameters, including age limits and tax revenues. When that happens, tobacco retailers will be held to the same standards as alcohol retailers.
Initially, Reynolds’ goal merely was to create more education around the topic of vaping. When the statistics source came out revealing that tobacco use in Colorado is double the national average and Eagle County’s tobacco use is higher still, she couldn’t continue to turn a blind eye. For the sake of future generations, students like Lopez and Reynolds are taking a stand, utilizing their resources in the face of reproach and beneath the menacing shadow of the tobacco industry — and they’ve got our vote