Update: December 10, 2021
Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock vetoed the controversial bill that would have outlawed the sale of flavored tobacco products in the city. Hancock’s office issued a release stating the bill was well intentioned, but not the right tool to address the problem of underage tobacco use.
Denver city council has voted to ban flavored tobacco products as of July 2023. The vote, which took place on December 6, 2021, has been widely criticized, partly because it still allows the sale of flavored products that contain actual tobacco while punishing vape stores whose products do not contain any tobacco.
The vote to ban the sale of these products was not unanimous, with 8 councilors voting in favor of the ban and 3 voting against it. What makes the ban interesting and somewhat frustrating is the lack of consistency in the proposed measures. This, twinned with the fact that Denver City Council has been lobbied by certain anti-vaping organizations, such as the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, who are ultimately backed by billionaires dictating policy worldwide, leads to a very suspect decision.
Why Has Denver Banned Flavored Tobacco Products?
As with several anti-vaping policies enacted recently, the main driver behind Denver’s approach is to ‘protect the youth’.
Several people spoke at the signing of the bill, both in favor and against, many wearing t-shirts emblazoned with “Vaping Saves Adult Lives”.
Proponents of the policy claim that the flavoring in various nicotine-related products encourages young people to take up vaping. This is despite evidence in other states that, by restricting vaping, there is an increased likelihood that youths are more likely to take up smoking.
A study performed in San Francisco demonstrated that such bans doubled the odds of a high school student taking up smoking.
This, combined with other scientific studies that demonstrate that youths who vape would have been likely to smoke, show that banning flavored products, particularly vape products, actually does little to benefit public health as a whole.
Aside from health implications, banning flavored vapes has an adverse socio-economic effect. This ban will result in the unsustainability of many small businesses that rely on selling such products to adults.
It should also be noted that many adults rely on vaping products as an effective means to stop smoking. And it is effective. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine has found that vaping is the most successful way to quit smoking, even when compared with pharmaceutical nicotine replacement therapy.
What are the Inconsistencies in Denver’s Approach?
Denver City Council’s approach has several flaws and inconsistencies that make little sense, considering that the underlying reason for the ban has been given as ‘public health’.
What are the inconsistencies?
For a ban on tobacco products, there are several ‘holes’. Hookah lounges are exempt from the ban, as are pipes and premium cigars.
Both of the above products contain tobacco.
The two co-sponsors of the bill, Amanda Sawyer and Debbie Ortega gave various reasons why the ban was enacted. The hookah bar exception was allowed because these establishments only sell their product to people of 21 years of age and up.
The zealous push was enacted following colloquial evidence that youth social media groups were being used to distribute vape products at school. Of course, and correctly, this method and sale manner are outside of the law.
However, it is important to recognize that this behavior is already illegal. Those willing to partake in such illegal behavior will likely not be dissuaded by a council decision that bans legitimate, responsible vendors.
The ban may push vaping entirely underground, and then all regulation and the possibility to control who is buying the products and what they do with them is lost.
As of October 1, 2021, Denver already had a mandatory minimum age for purchasing and using nicotine products, including vapes and e-liquids. If it worked before, it is hard to see why it won’t continue to work now, and if it is failing, why would it work for hookah bars?
Even stranger is that Councilwoman Kendra Black offered an amendment to the bill introducing increased age verification procedures, which could ensure both a reduction in youth use and allow vendors to continue in their business. It was subsequently voted down.
When looking at the other exemptions, the inconsistencies are even more profound.
An argument was that hookah tobacco has always been flavored and would have shut down over 20 businesses city-wide had the ban included these products. That this ban would have a similar effect on vaping businesses and people’s livelihoods would appear to have been completely overlooked.
The cigar and pipe exemptions were the brainchild of Councilman Paul Kashmann, who was quoted by the Denver Post as saying: –
“I don’t know kids walking around with nasty old stogies.”
In truth, cigars, a combustible product where shredded tobacco is housed within a rolled-up tobacco leaf, produce countless carcinogens. It is a verified source of passive smoking.
As are pipes.
Both are particularly harmful to people of all ages because the smoke produced is entirely unfiltered. In the interest of transparency, it should be noted that, ultimately, Councilman Kashmann voted ‘no’ to the ban. Councilor Kashmann also put forth the amendment requesting the bill’s implementation be pushed back to 2023.
According to a quote from Terri Richardson, Vice-Chair of the Colorado Black Health Collaborative: –
“This ordinance gives our youth the chance to be tobacco-free and healthy.”
This simple sentence demonstrates the misinformation and misguidance surrounding vaping. Electronic cigarettes provide the best solution to quit smoking for good for millions of people. When paired with the studies mentioned above, restricting vaping may very well push the youth towards smoking, which is far from ‘healthy’.
How Effective Will the Ban Be in Its Aims?
In reality, it is doubtful the ban will not produce the desired effect in any meaningful way.
While other municipalities have enacted similar style bans, there are neighbors to Denver, many of whom don’t share the same opinions or restrictions. As a result, it could be easy for vape products to be ‘imported’ from less restrictive areas.
In the meantime, those in Denver who legitimately and legally use vape products as a healthier alternative to smoking will be unduly punished due to the actions of a few ‘bad actors’.
There may be a glimmer of light on the horizon. The eagle-eyed may have noticed that this ban will not come into effect until 2023. This will give time for retailers to adapt. Furthermore, a handful of councilors have expressed a desire to revisit the issue, with the possibility of looking at stricter controls and a possible exemption for 21-and-up shops.
The Bottom Line…
It is a simple fact that vaping is a healthier alternative to smoking. The above ban is damaging, both in a health sense and for those business owners who have embraced vaping as a force for good. No law will completely eliminate bad actors who already have operated outside of its boundaries.
As the t-shirts of many opponents of the bill state, available to see in the background as speakers give their opinions; “vaping saves adult lives”. When one considers that vaping is effectively being banned. At the same time, tobacco products are allowed to remain is contrary to logic and common sense. Many controls could prevent adult products from falling into the hands of the young. But, banning them outright when these products help the overwhelming majority of its users is contrary to ‘public health’.