COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — After four months of heated debate, state senators on Tuesday killed a bill to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products in Colorado.
House Bill 1064, one of the most high-profile bills of the session, met an unceremonious end when the Senate Appropriations Committee voted, 5-2, to close the bill. The meeting elicited no public comment and little debate, unlike the other six votes on the bill which saw hours of discussion and dozens of community members testify in favor and in opposition to the measure.
Tuesday’s vote came after Governor Jared Polis said he opposed the bill, sparking fears of a veto. Although Polis said the matter was best left to local governments, the ban would have cut funding for its new universal preschool program funded by state tobacco and nicotine taxes. Polis’ office declined to comment on the bill on Tuesday.
“To consider this continued and intentional reliance by eighth graders this year on paying for next year’s preschoolers is just plain wrong,” said Sen. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, who sponsored the law Project.
The bill’s sponsors say it intends to reduce tobacco and nicotine use among young people by banning the sale of flavored products, such as vapes, e-cigarettes, menthol cigarettes and tobacco to chew from 2024. The bill was amended to exempt hookah products, premium cigars and pipe tobacco.
In Colorado, 28.9% of high school students use electronic vaping products, such as vapes and e-cigarettes, according to the most recent 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey. Among tobacco users aged 12 at age 17, 81% said they started using flavored products and 79% said they use a product because it comes in flavors they like, according to a federal study.
“Our children cannot wait. We’re in an epidemic right now,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora. “Ignoring this process because we want to continue taxing this product when the end result is a corpse somewhere – that doesn’t seem appropriate to me.”
Although the bill passed the State House in a 35-27 vote last week, seven lawmakers ultimately decided the bill’s fate. Democratic senses Chris Hansen and Julie Gonzales voted in favor of the bill, while Republican senses John Cooke, Bob Rankin and Jerry Sonnenberg, and Democratic senses Rachel Zenzinger and Robert Rodriguez voted to kill it.
Opponents of the Appropriations Committee raised concerns about declining state revenues and specifically mentioned funding for the universal preschool program. The ban, as written, would have decreased state revenue by $37.1 million in 2022 and $38.6 million in 2023, according to state estimates.
The senators also said the ban would simply drive tobacco and nicotine users to buy flavored products online or out of state, describing youth tobacco use as inevitable but improving.
“Smoking in schools has been happening since before I was born and I don’t know if this is going to stop it,” Rodriguez, D-Denver, said. “In my four years here, we’ve done so much to reduce that, and the data shows us that it’s decreasing.”
In 2020, about 1 in 5 high school students and 1 in 20 college students used e-cigarettes nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By 2021, usage has declined to approximately 1 in 9 high school students and 1 in 35 middle school students.
Outside the Capitol, critics said the ban was unfair to adult users and would drive small vape shops out of business. During a public hearing on the bill, several owners and employees of local vape and tobacco shops said that 98% of their tobacco and nicotine products were flavored, arguing that the ban would require them to close.
“I’ve been in this industry for 13 years…this bill would bankrupt us,” said Jason Casados, president of Vapor Source. “Have we done everything possible to resolve the issues before going to the extreme with a total ban?”
Proponents of the bill, which include doctors, parents and teenagers, described a dire state in Colorado with frequent vaping in middle and high schools.
Some young people who testified at the public hearing spoke of children vaping during class and blowing smoke in their backpacks, while others said they had heard rumors that their peers were offering sexual favors to adults over the age of 21 in exchange for vaping cartridges.
Jodi Radke, director of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, criticized the governor’s local control stance on the ban, saying it’s too easy for young people to access the products in nearby towns. While cities, such as Boulder and Glenwood Springs, have passed flavor bans, last year Denver’s mayor vetoed a city council-approved ban because he said it had to be effective across the state.
“We are committed to working on this issue at the local level, but we also need his commitment to make this a state priority,” Radke said. “His campaign promises to support the health of our communities, as well as his declared commitment to reducing health care costs, speaks for the proposal we are presenting, not against it.
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