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After months of debate, Colorado senators kill proposed ban of flavored tobacco

Hannah Metzger, The Gazette on

Published in News & Features

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — After four months of heated debate, state senators on Tuesday killed a bill that seeks to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products in Colorado.

House Bill 1064, one of the most high-profile bills of the session, met an unceremonious end when the Senate Appropriations Committee voted, 5-2, to shut the bill down. The meeting featured no public comment and little debate, unlike the other six votes on the bill that saw hours of discussion and dozens of community members testifying in support and opposition to the measure.

Tuesday’s vote came after Gov. Jared Polis said he opposed the bill, spurring concerns of a veto. Though Polis said the issue is better left to local governments, the ban would have slashed funding for his new universal preschool program funded by state tobacco and nicotine taxes. Polis’ office declined to comment on the bill Tuesday.

“Contemplating this continued, intentional addiction of this year’s eighth graders to pay for the next year’s preschoolers is just plain wrong,” said Sen. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, who sponsored the bill.

Sponsors of the bill said it intends to curb youth tobacco and nicotine use by prohibiting the sale of flavored products, such as vapes, e-cigarettes, menthol cigarettes and chewing tobacco beginning in 2024. The bill was changed to exempt hookah products, premium cigars and pipe tobacco.

In Colorado, 28.9% of high school students use electronic vapor products, such as vapes and e-cigarettes, according to the most recent Youth Risk Behavior Survey from 2019. Of tobacco users between 12 and 17 years old, 81% said they started by using flavored products and 79% said they use a product because it comes in flavors they like, according to a federal study.

“Our kids can’t wait. We’re in an epidemic right now,” said bill sponsor Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora. “Ignoring this process because we want to continue to tax this product when the end result is a dead body somewhere – that doesn’t sound appropriate to me.”

Though the bill passed the state House in a 35-27 vote last week, seven lawmakers ultimately decided the bill’s fate. Democrat Sens. Chris Hansen and Julie Gonzales voted in favor of the bill, while Republican Sens. John Cooke, Bob Rankin and Jerry Sonnenberg, as well as Democrat Sens. Rachel Zenzinger and Robert Rodriguez voted to kill it.

Opponents in the Appropriations Committee raised concerns about decreasing state revenue and specifically mentioned funding for the universal preschool program. The ban, as drafted, would have decreased state revenue by $37.1 million in 2022 and $38.6 million in 2023, according to state estimates.

The senators also said the ban would just lead to tobacco and nicotine users buying flavored products online or out of state, describing youth tobacco use as inevitable but improving.

 

“Smoking in schools has been going on since before I was born and I don’t know if this is going to stop that,” Rodriguez, D-Denver, said. “Over my four years here, we have done so many things to reduce this, and the data shows us it is reducing.”

In 2020, roughly 1 in 5 high school students and 1 in 20 middle school students used e-cigarettes nationally, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2021, use decreased to roughly 1 in 9 high school students and 1 in 35 middle school students.

Outside of the Capitol, critics have said the ban is unfair to adult users and it would push small vape shops out of business. During a public hearing on the bill, several owners and employees of local vape and tobacco stores said 98% of their tobacco and nicotine products are flavored, arguing the ban would force them to close.

“I’ve been in this industry for 13 years ... this bill would put us out of business,” said Jason Casados, president of Vapor Source. “Have we done absolutely everything possible accomplish the issues before we go to extremes with a full prohibition?"

The bill's supporters, who include doctors, parents and teenagers, described a dire state in Colorado with frequent vaping in middle and high schools.

Some youths who testified during the public hearing spoke of children vaping during class and blowing smoke into their backpacks, while others said they’ve heard rumors of their peers providing sexual favors to adults over 21 in exchange for vape cartridges.

Jodi Radke, director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, criticized the governor’s local control stance on the ban, saying it is too easy for youth to access the products in neighboring cities. While cities, such as Boulder and Glenwood Springs, have passed flavor bans, last year, Denver’s mayor vetoed a ban passed the City Council approved because he said it must be statewide to be effective.

“We are committed to working on this issue at the local level, but we need his commitment to making this a state priority, as well,” Radke said. “His campaign promises around supporting the health of our communities, as well as his stated commitment to lowering health care costs argue for the proposal we’re putting forward, not against it.”

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©#YR Colorado Springs Gazette. Visit at gazette.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
 

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