Denver councilwomen propose banning sale of flavored tobacco & nicotine products

Vaping

Luciano Neel, an assistant manager at Myxed Up Creations at the corner of Ivy Street and East Colfax Avenue, blows a vapor cloud. Photo by Eric Heinz.

Two Denver City Council members are looking to get some heads out of the clouds.

Councilwomen Amanda Sawyer and Deborah Ortega are proposing a measure that would ban the sale in Denver of flavored nicotine and tobacco vaping products that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Sawyer told BusinessDen the spread of vaping among the city’s teenagers has continued since the products became widely available in the last few years, despite the fact that Denver already restricts the sale of nicotine products to those over 21 years old. 

 “The goal here is to not target any one particular kind of product but to ensure that kids are not getting access to these products,” Sawyer said. “Flavors are really the thing that are pulling these kids in and getting them hooked, and then they will move on to whatever other products they end up finding.”

Edgewater, Boulder, Aspen and Glenwood Springs are among Colorado cities that have already passed bans on the sale of flavored tobacco. But the owner of one retail shop along Colfax Avenue told BusinessDen that a ban in Denver could put his business “in a desperate situation.”

Devices for using flavored nicotine would also be banned in Denver if the proposal passes, but items like nicotine gum or patches would not, so long as they have FDA approval.

“A vape pen of whatever kind, along with the USB things and the sweatshirts where you smoke it under the strings and like the fake lipstick, all of those are banned under this law,” Sawyer said.

A recent study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted that the number of teenage vaping dropped in 2020 as students were restricted to distanced learning. But according to a March survey from Tobacco Free Kids, about 26 percent of Colorado high school students said they had used vaping products.

Sawyer provided a letter that George Washington High School principal Kristin E. Waters sent to parents Sept. 15, saying the school has had five building evacuations since the start of this year because students vaping nicotine or marijuana in restrooms set off fire alarms.

“This is unacceptable,” Waters wrote. “The disruption to the learning environment is frustrating for both students and staff. Vape pens, tobacco use and marijuana use are strictly prohibited on school grounds. We are reviewing security camera footage to determine who might be responsible and following up with students and families.”

A draft of the proposed ban should be available online Monday, and will be heard by a council committee Wednesday. Sawyer said if the ban is passed, it would be enforced starting July 1. 

Phil Guerin, the owner of Myxed Up Creations at the corner of Ivy Street and Colfax Avenue, which sells vaping products and other smoking accessories, said the ban would be perilous for his business.

“It’s stunning because it represents our largest-selling item,” Guerin said. “We’ve already been struggling because of the pandemic.”

Guerin said he’s hopeful the number of people who signed a petition in opposition to the ban that is circulating around Denver shops that sell vaping products and flavored tobacco will be enough to sway the council’s vote to reject the ban.

“The pandemic has already tied one hand behind our back,” Guerin said. “I think we would be in a desperate situation. I cringe at even thinking that this might happen, and I’m holding out hope that it doesn’t, but it would be almost a certain demise of my company.” 

Joe Miklosi, a local consultant who has been working with 21 small vaping businesses, said large retailers have not been diligent in limiting sales to minors, and they have been manufacturing covert vaping products to look like everyday items. 

“Their stench has hurt the reputation of the 14,000 stores in all 50 states that are responsible small mom-and-pop stores that truly are trying to both reduce youth vaping while still allowing responsible adults to use flavored vaping to quit smoking more harmful cigarettes,” Miklosi said. “To punish responsible small business store owners in age restricted stores is not the right approach.”

If the Denver measure passed, Miklosi said minors would still be able to go to neighboring cities or online to obtain flavored nicotine products. He said a better policy would be to further regulate business and fines for those selling to people under 21 or committing other violations. 

The petition gathered signatures at business has about 5,000 signatures so far, Miklosi said. Another online at Change.org received 154 as of Friday.

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