More time is needed to decide the details of a bill that would effectively ban the sale of flavored tobacco products in Denver, a City Council committee determined Wednesday, as multiple members proposed possible modifications to the measure.
The bill as it is currently written would ban products such as flavored nicotine and tobacco products that have not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to help people quit smoking. That would include flavored cigars, vaping products and materials used for hookahs.
The bill was introduced by Councilwomen Amanda Sawyer and Deborah Ortega earlier this month. Sawyer said she co-authored the bill because she wants to prevent teenagers and younger children from accessing the products.
Denver already restricts the sale of nicotine products to those over 21 years old, but Sawyer has said kids are continuing to get the products. She cites in part a survey from Tobacco Free Kids Colorado, where 26 percent of the state’s high school students said they had used flavored tobacco products, as well as the fact that her 12-year-old daughter was caught by school officials trying to buy flavored electronic nicotine products via the app TikTok.
On Wednesday, several amendments were introduced at the committee meeting that would create exemptions to the ban. One would require certain products to only be sold at stores where a customer must be 21 years old to enter, while another would exempt hookah lounges and the sale of premium cigars. Another amendment would require enhancing identification checks.
The committee did not vote on the proposed amendments, and is set to discuss the bill again on Nov. 17.
Councilwoman Kendra Black, who introduced the motion to limit sales only to stores that allow customers 21 and older, said prohibition never works, as it didn’t for alcohol and in many states marijuana.
“This is not being done with a scalpel; it’s being done with a sledgehammer, and we are going to impact adults and prevent them from being adults in buying products that they want,” Black said. “But it’s not going to prevent kids from getting their hands on tobacco products.”
Councilman Kevin Flynn said he hates smoking and wishes tobacco products “didn’t exist at all.” But he put forth an amendment to exempt menthol cigarettes, as they are goods people in his district have purchased for decades.
“I would piggyback on what Councilwoman Black said and propose, instead of increasing fines, that for a first violation or a second violation by any tobacco retailer, if they are caught selling to anyone under 21, they lose their license and they can’t sell any tobacco at all,” Flynn said.
Hookah lounge hours
In a separate bill, but one that was brought forth along with the proposal to exempt hookah lounges, the committee advanced a proposal to limit the hours of operation of hookah lounges so that they would have to close between midnight and 7 a.m.
Councilman Jolon Clark said he made the proposal after there had been multiple incidents at hookah lounges in his district, such as fighting, drive-by shootings and other issues. Clark said Denver currently does not have restricted hours for such establishments.
Sawyer said a hookah lounge recently opened in her northwest Denver district and the same issues have occurred there.
But Clark also said he understands that people who go to hookah lounges may not consume alcohol or may consider the smoking devices part of their culture, and he said he doesn’t want to penalize compliant business owners.
“I think that we can do better by eliminating the issues without getting rid of everybody in one sweep because I think there are responsible owners,” Clark said. “Many of these are minority-owned, immigrant-owned small businesses, and so this creates a pathway for responsible owners to continue operating while looking at the real issues that are plaguing the community.”
Clark’s proposal would also look at eliminating outdoor gatherings of people at hookah lounges.
The bill, which will be heard by the full city council at a date to be determined, only applies to hookah lounges and does not affect cigar shops, marijuana dispensaries or bars as they are governed under separate ordinances.