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Denver City Council votes to ban sale of flavored tobacco products

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Posted at 7:08 PM, Dec 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-06 23:02:36-05

DENVER — Denver’s City Council voted Monday to approve a ban on the sale of flavor tobacco products within county limits.

Council Bill 1182 prohibits the sale of any tobacco product or component that’s meant to disguise the taste of the product.

Some of the flavors specifically mentioned include fruit, wintergreen, chocolate, vanilla and candy. Menthol is also included in the proposed ban. However, the bill carves out exceptions for hookah, pipe tobacco and cigars.

Supporters of the ban held a press conference Monday morning to make one final push for city council to vote in favor of the bill. They say this will help deter teenagers and Denver’s youth from trying tobacco.

“Denver City Council has a monumental opportunity to prevent a new generation of kids from getting hooked on deadly tobacco,” Denver city councilwoman Amanda Sawyer said.

Recent polling Sawyer cited shows that a majority of Denver residents support the proposed ban. More than 100 local, state and federal organizations have also come out in support of the idea. The Denver Public Schools board recently also passed a resolution in support of the ban.

Dr. Robin Deterding from Colorado Children’s Hospital also attended Monday’s press conference to offer her support to the ban as someone who treats youth with nicotine and lung issues regularly.

“We know that children who start smoking cigarettes start when they’re young,” Deterding said. “They addict children and it becomes a lifelong problem, and it not only addicts them when they’re adults, but it worsens health issues.”

Councilwoman Debbie Ortega, meanwhile, said they were hoping the federal government or state legislature would have instituted a ban on these products by now, but since they haven’t, it has come down to local governments to take steps on their own.

“In many cases we find that local jurisdictions have to take that step and then we see the state follow afterward in many cases,” Ortega said.

Several other cities in the state have already taken similar measures.

Opponents of the ban held an afternoon press conference in front of the Denver City and County building hoping to persuade council members to see their side and vote no. They say these products should not be banned for adults over 21 and that it’s a matter of personal choice.

“I chose the side because I’m opposed to government trying to tell grown-ups what to do when you’re 21 years of age or older, no matter how well-meaning their intentions are,” former Denver Mayor Wellington Webb said.

Others pointed out that this will hurt businesses in Denver. An estimated 21 businesses are expected to suffer financial losses within the city by passing the ban.

Cignot Vape Shop is one of those businesses. Co-owner Monica Vondruska said the store just celebrated its ninth anniversary, and this could put them out of business.

“It would be taking over 90% of the products off of our shelf. Not only that, it's all the products that our customers use every day,” Vondruska said. “Taking 90% of our products away that adults choose every single day will destroy the business. We will not be here anymore."

She argues that a citywide ban would simply drive consumers to other jurisdictions where the flavored products are still legal. It could also bolster the black market.

Beyond that, she says many adults tend to use these products when they are trying to cut down or kick a nicotine habit, and this will hurt their progress. She argues that these products have been unfairly lumped in with the negative stereotypes of Big Tobacco and that businesses like hers are doing their part to try to block youth access to these products.

“We're doing our best as a business, having ID scanners, having cameras, nobody under the age of 21 is allowed in the store. I just wish that there was an open communication and they just didn't shut that down because of what they think I do and who they believe that I am,” Vondruska said.

Other opponents believe this proposed ban unfairly targets minority communities since menthol was included while cigars were not.

During Monday’s anti-ban press conference, opponents said three were carveouts for other cultures, like a hookah exclusion, and they say there should be a carveout for menthol since many African American users prefer the flavor.

Art Way, a drug policy reformer, says history should have taught us that bans are not effective.

“Proposal to ban flavored tobacco products is simply a typical soccer mom drug war-type proposal that focuses on the sellers, and it does absolutely nothing to those who are using the products,” Way said.

Instead of a ban, he would like to see more money go to education campaigns, particularly in minority communities.

“You can demonize the tobacco industry all you want, but to send the product underground where people will no longer admit their use and we really can’t monitor where we are when it comes to use when it goes underground, I think that’s a bad idea,” Way said.

Nevertheless, city council approved the measure in an 8-3 vote Monday night. It will go into effect in 2023.

Businesses caught selling the flavored products will receive a warning the first time, a 30-day ban on selling tobacco the second time, a one-year ban on selling tobacco the third time and so on.

In response to the vote the Colorado Convenience Store Association said the "only real winners" are businesses surrounding Denver.

"Instead of standing up for our essential workers and our business owners in Denver, the majority of the council stood up for businesses located elsewhere. Prohibition does not work, it didn't work in the 1930s, it didn't work relative to marijuana and it doesn't work in this policy space either," a statement from the Colorado Convenience Store Association says. "Responsible retailers are ready and willing to work on balanced enforcement driven policies, ideas to hold bad actors accountable. Denver should continue our strong tradition of giving adults the right to make choices for themselves relative to legal products and services."