In an effort to combat what officials have called an “epidemic” of teen vaping, several Colorado communities have moved to further regulate tobacco sales through new laws that increase taxes or raise the legal age to buy such products.
But this week Aspen took a far more aggressive approach, becoming the first city in the state to ban the sale of all flavored nicotine products, including those containing menthol.
The prohibition on selling flavored cigarettes, cigars, e-cigarettes and vaping products in Aspen goes into effect Jan. 1.
“It is, I think, our duty on council and in government to protect public health, and this ban, which I fully support, not only protects youth but tries to address addiction by adults,” Councilman Ward Hauenstein said during Monday night’s meeting.
Only 37 other cities in the U.S. — including Chicago, San Francisco and Minneapolis — have passed such sweeping restrictions on the sale of flavored tobacco products, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which submitted a letter to the Aspen council supporting that city’s flavor ban.
Flavored nicotine products, especially those used in e-cigarettes and vaping devices, have come under fire by state and federal health officials, who say they draw teenagers, and even children, to vaping. Other than menthol, vaping products’ flavors can include creme brulee, mint, cucumber and mango.
The Food and Drug Administration has referred to the use of e-cigarettes by teenagers as an “epidemic,” while Colorado’s high rate of teen vaping has drawn the attention of the state’s two most recent governors.
This year, Gov. Jared Polis introduced a plan to create an excise tax on vaping products and increase taxes on all nicotine products. The bill failed but followed a push by then-Gov. John Hickenlooper in November to increase regulation of e-cigarettes.
In Colorado, teens and children use e-cigarettes more than any other tobacco product, with 27 percent of youths reporting they used the products, according to a 2017 state survey of middle and high schoolers.
A spokesman for Juul Labs said the e-cigarette company has taken action to curb underage use of its products, but “flavors are a complex issue” as the firm believes they help adults switch from smoking cigarettes.
“While we do not and will not sell flavors which are clearly targeted to youth, we also understand that flavors that drive adults from cigarettes have the potential to appeal to youth,” Juul spokesman Ted Kwong said in an email.
Ahead of their vote this week, Aspen’s city leaders in May approved a partial ban that prohibited just the sale of flavored e-cigarette products. It’s already illegal for anyone under 21 to buy tobacco products in the city, according to the Aspen Daily News.
When the City Council considered the ban in May, convenience store owner Michael Haisfield opposed the proposal, saying that he had removed all vaping and e-cigarette products from his stores in 2018 because of the problem with youth vaping.
“In my opinion, vaping and e-cigs are the issue with young adults, not the other tobacco products,” he wrote in a letter to council members. “This ban is imposing restrictions on grown adults, who are, despite assumptions to the contrary, the primary users of flavored tobacco products and should be allowed to make their own decisions.”
Other cities across the state have considered or approved ordinances to further regulate the sale of tobacco products, such as Lakewood, which now requires retailers selling products such as e-cigarettes, cigars and chew to get a license from the city and to check identification to prevent underage buyers.
Denver has proposed prohibiting teenagers from buying tobacco products by raising the minimum purchase age to 21.
And other cities, such as Loveland and Snowmass Village, have expressed interest in considering ordinances similar to that passed in Aspen, said Jodi Radke, a regional director for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
“Our elected officials are looking to pass policies that they know will decrease use rates among kids and prevent them from ever starting,” she said, adding, “The conversation definitely doesn’t stop at Aspen.”
This content was originally published here.