Denver, CO

Denver advances flavored tobacco ban after lengthy discussion

David Heitz

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The Denver City Council voted 12-1 late Monday to advance a ban on flavored tobacco in the city. Some members said they may vote no on the law’s second reading at next week’s meeting.

Council member Chris Herndon said he will be absent next week, so he voted no Monday. Monday’s vote was to publish the ordinance.

During a public hearing that lasted several hours, the council heard testimony from doctors, business owners, vaping enthusiasts, public health advocates and menthol cigarette smokers. Three council members tried to advance amendments to the bill.

Last-minute amendment postpones enforcement

In a last-minute amendment to the law proposed by council member Paul Kashmann, the council agreed to postpone its implementation from July 1, 2022, to July 1, 2023. That will give business owners more time to adapt to the ban.

The latest Healthy Kids Colorado survey shows vaping among young people has increased from 11.5 percent in 2013 to 39.9 percent in 2019. Of young people who smoked, 35.6 percent used menthol cigarettes.

Alverta Simmons asked the council to exempt menthols from the ban. “You talk about fairness, you’ve got to be fair,” he said, pointing out the council’s exemption of hand-rolled cigars and hookah from the ban. “Let us choose as black people what we want to do as adults.”

Proposal to exempt menthols fails

Councilman Kevin Flynn made a motion to exempt menthol cigarettes from the ban. Several speakers during comment time in recent weeks said the ban discriminates against Black people, who enjoy menthols.

Some members of the council said the intent of the proposal drifted from protecting children to telling adults what they can and cannot do. It is inconsistent to exempt hookah tobacco and hand-rolled cigars from the ban but not menthols, several speakers alleged during the public hearing.

Flynn’s motion to exempt menthols failed.

Ban could put stores out of business

Councilwoman Kendra Black moved to exempt specialty tobacco stores from the ban. That would have created a system for flavored tobacco sales like marijuana dispensaries. Only people 21 and older would be allowed inside and there would be heavy identification enforcement.

Black’s proposal failed, however.

Brian Fojtnik of the National Association of Tobacco Outlets spoke against the ban. He said youth smoking has declined steadily through the years, contradicting data presented by others during the public hearing.

He said most of the small business that sell vaping devices are owned by women and minorities. They would be put out of business by the ban, Fojtnik said.

“This is a massive expansion of the failed, deadly war on drugs,” Fojtnik told the council. “This ordinance is patronizing and elitist. People of color are capable of thinking and making decisions for themselves.”

Glenwood Springs ban causes layoffs

One woman who spoke during the public hearing said she owns a vape store in Glenwood Springs, which recently enacted a ban. She said she had to lay off four of six employees. She said the only reason the store is still open is because the property owner offered the business a good deal on rent.

Scott Balderman, a member of the Denver Public Schools Board, told the council that body supports the ban. He said there have been problems in Denver schools with vaping.

Philip Green said he has owned a vaping supply store in Denver called Mixed Up for more than 20 years. “I’ve helped thousands of people stop smoking cigarettes,” he said. Several members of the audience wore blue T-shirts that said, “Vaping saves adult lives.”

Harm reduction approach to quitting cigarettes

Joe Morosi, who owns a chain of vaping stores, said people in his stores use vapes to stop smoking combustible cigarettes, which contain harsh chemicals and tar. He said his customers can dial down the amount of nicotine put in their vape juice over time. He said about a third of his customers, whose average age is 42, vape without nicotine.

“I don’t want to hear that vapes are the gateway to cigarettes, that’s ridiculous,” Green said to applause. He called the proposed ban “typical drug war soccer mom kneejerk reaction” that’s “punishing mom and pop harm reductionists that are selling vapes.”

Dr. Temitope Dimmer, a Kaiser Permanente doctor, spoke as a pediatrician, black woman, and parent during the public hearing. She said the state is amidst in an e-cigarette epidemic because the tobacco industry markets enticing flavors to children. Those flavors include watermelon, cotton candy and bubble gum.

Black people account for most smoking deaths

She said black lives have been disproportionately impacted by menthol cigarettes. Black people account for 41 percent of smoking deaths but make up only 12 percent of smokers.

Dimmer said 85 percent of black people who smoke, smoke menthols. Advertising campaigns glamorizing smoking menthols are targeted at black people. The cigarettes also are popular with LGBT people and youths because of the tobacco industry’s targeted marketing, public health advocates said.

Sarah Barnes, manager of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, said half of all youths ages 12 to 17 who smoke use menthol cigarettes. She said the state’s vaping rates among youths also are higher than the national average.

A final vote on the ban will be next week. The council may vote against the ban that time, although it would be unusual. Ordinances must be approved twice to become law.

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best local newspapers in the country. Today, I report on Denver City Hall, homelessness and other topics for NewsBreak, much like I did in my twenties covering Newport Beach, Calif. for the Daily Pilot. I consider myself a lucky guy to still be doing what I love after so many years.

Denver, CO
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