Editorial: Denver shouldn’t shutter vape shops — yet

Denver’s proposed ban on the last remaining legal flavored nicotine products being sold in the U.S. is a mistake.

We don’t take that position lightly. We wrote in 2019 to support President Donald Trump’s proposed partial ban on flavored nicotine products that “the playing field is not equal when it comes to kids and teens. Their decision-making abilities are not fully developed and some evidence indicates they may be more susceptible to addiction. Taking concrete measures to block kids and teens from being able to use nicotine and marijuana products, especially through these popular new vaping devices is essential.”

The federal Food and Drug Administration has left loopholes in its ban of flavored nicotine products over the years. In 2009, Obama banned all flavored cigarettes except for Menthol. And while flavored nicotine “pods” sold by major manufactures like Juul and NJoy were banned by the FDA in 2020, it allowed nicotine juices that can be poured into larger vape devices to still be sold. The justification was that those juices are primarily sold in independently owned vape shops rather than at nearly every drug store and convenience store in the nation like the products sold and marketed by Big Tobacco.

The carve-outs were reasonable compromises.

The flavored nicotine ban also came as Congress increased the age to purchase nicotine products from 18 years old to 21 years old. Colorado followed suit with Gov. Jared Polis signing the Tobacco 21 bill on July 14, 2020. That bill also increased enforcement on Colorado retail sellers, creating a license for the sale of nicotine products and a compliance division to check for stores selling to teens.

Taken together, we think it’s possible these changes could reduce teen access to vaping products.

There is some evidence to support that theory, although experts attribute the drop in teen vaping and smoking to schools being closed during the pandemic. A survey released last month by the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 11% of high school students and less than 3% of middle school students said they were recent users of e-cigarettes and other vaping products. In 2020, 20% of high school students and 5% of middle school students reported using the products.

Before we shutter vape shops and also possibly hookah lounges, we should see if Colorado can mirror that trend and hold it steady.

City Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer brought forward the proposed city of Denver flavored nicotine ban, which would close the Trump carve out for flavored liquid nicotine as well as the older exemption for menthol cigarettes. She is right to be concerned about Colorado’s kids.

Colorado teens are much more likely than their peers across the nation to be using vape devices, and while those devices are likely less harmful to their lungs than cigarettes, it’s an addiction that is hard to beat, and the long-term effects of vaping are still unknown.

We cannot gamble with the next generation’s health, especially when they are susceptible to addiction and influenced by peer pressure and marketing.

According to the Colorado Department of Health and Human Services’ Healthy Kids Survey in the 2019 school year, 26% of Colorado high school and middle school students had vaped within the previous 30 days and 46% said they had tried vaping at some point.

Big Tobacco may have found a way to hook the next generation.

But vape shops and hookah lounges are like bars and nightclubs these days, where no one gets in the door without proving they are 21 years old. Hooka lounges represent a low threat of addiction, as the product is consumed on-site.

If Colorado’s teen vaping numbers head in the wrong direction in coming years, Sawyer should bring her ban again, but for now, we think the city council should give the other reforms more time to get nicotine away from our kids.

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