Oct 7, 2021 - Politics
A plan to ban flavored tobacco in Denver faces fierce opposition
A photo of a person exhaling vapor while using an electronic cigarette device at a smoke shop
A person exhales vapor while using an electronic cigarette device at a smoke shop. Photo: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A proposal to outlaw the sale of flavored tobacco and vape juices in Denver could look a lot different by the time it passes — if it passes at all.

State of play: A proposal backed by City Council members Amanda Sawyer and Debbie Ortega was kicked back to the drawing board Wednesday after a heated two-hour hearing that drew dozens of people from both sides of the issue.

  • Proponents say the law is needed to prevent and curb nicotine addiction in kids, who studies show tend to be drawn to flavored vaping products like strawberry and cotton candy juices.
  • Opponents argue the law would put people out of business, disproportionately harm residents of color and ultimately fail because online sales wouldn't be considered illegal. At best, they say, the rule is too broad and needs exemptions, particularly for hookah lounges.

Why it matters: Whether the restriction passes in Denver could have statewide implications.

What they're saying: "What Denver does, the state follows," Sawyer said Wednesday.

  • Colorado lawmakers who unsuccessfully tried to pass a statewide bill banning flavored tobacco products in 2020 don't plan to pick up the issue again anytime soon, Sawyer told council members — but they may find new momentum riding Denver's tailcoat.

Yes, but: The evidence remains murky on whether similar laws passed in other cities and states, including California and Massachusetts, have been effective in solving the youth vaping problem. That comes as a particular pain point among skeptical council members, including Kevin Flynn and Kendra Black.

  • A study from the Yale School of Public Health, released in May, found that San Francisco's law banning the sale of flavored tobacco products may have had the opposite effect by doubling the odds of underage smoking.
  • But a 2020 George Mason University study found the national flavored cigarette ban in 2009 reduced youth smoking by 43% and by 27% for young adults.

Of note: Five Colorado cities — Aspen, Boulder, Carbondale, Edgewater, Glenwood Springs and Snowmass have already passed similar legislation. None have gathered conclusive data indicating the effectiveness of the policy.

What's next: Council members will hold another hearing on Oct. 27, when several amendments are likely to be introduced.

  • Of particular interest to a few members is finding a way to crack down on the 22% of tobacco retailers out of compliance for selling to minors rather than banning flavored products altogether.
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