Denver, CO

Denver ramps up tobacco enforcement

David Heitz

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Denver plans to add three positions in the Department of Public Health and Environment to enforce laws that keep cigarettes away from children.

The city also plans to spend more than $600,000 on smoking cessation programs for ethnic minorities, LGBT people, and those with low incomes. According to the health department, these groups use tobacco more than other people.

The City Council will consider the contracts at its meeting Monday. If approved, the city will hire a public health investigator for $82,000 annually, a tobacco program supervisor for $84,000 annually and an administrative assistant at $22 per hour.

Fee increases approved by the council last year will partly pay the salaries of the new employees. The council more than doubled fees for businesses that violate state and local tobacco laws. The city also will use almost $150,000 from the city's contingency fund.

Selling to minors costs businesses

The updated fines for sales to a minor:

· First violation: $500

· Second violation: $1,000 plus 30-day license suspension

· Third violation: $2,000 plus 60-day license suspension

· Fourth violation: $5,000 plus a one-year license suspension.

Improper signage for self-service vending machines:

· First violation: Up to $250

· Second violation: $500

· Third violation: $750

· Fourth violation: up to $999.

Each retailer visited four times annually

Increased revenue will support the new positions. In 2022, the health department plans to check all 600 tobacco sales locations four times. The department anticipates issuing 432 citations with an expected non-compliance rate of 18 percent.

"Ideally, this percentage would decline over time as retailers with tobacco violations are addressed with increased fines, suspension orders, and education/outreach," the health department said in a memo to the council.

The health department predicts citations will generate $364,000. That's almost 10 times more money than pre-COVID levels.

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I've been in the news business 35 years, spending much of my career in editing roles at local newspapers in Los Angeles, Detroit, and the Quad-Cities of Illinois and Iowa. Upon moving to Denver in 2018, I began experiencing severe mental illness due to several traumatic experiences. I became homeless on the street for about a year before spending time in the state mental hospital. I am living proof that people can rebound from mental illness with proper treatment, even after experiencing homelessness. I consider myself a lucky guy to live in a great place like Denver. I hope my writing reflects the passion I have for living here.

Denver, CO
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