A proposal to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products in Denver was postponed to the end of the month Wednesday after nearly two hours of debate by the Denver City Council safety committee.
If passed, the ban would apply to all flavored tobacco products sold in all establishments within city limits, with exemptions only for harm-reduction tools approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
That means flavored hookah, menthol cigarettes, chewing tobacco, cigars and vaping products could not be sold in Denver — the last of which is the main target of the ban.
Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer, who co-sponsored the proposal, said she was inspired to initiate the ban when she found out one of her 12-year-old daughter’s classmates was trying to sell her vape products.
"What she said was, ‘It’s just cotton candy, it’s no big deal,’” Sawyer said. "When we look at the data on how kids get started smoking, vaping, it’s always flavored tobacco. … If we can stop kids from starting to smoke, they will not be smokers down the road.”
In 2020, approximately one in five high school students and one in 20 middle school students used e-cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Of tobacco users between 12 and 17 years old, 81% said they started by using flavored products and 79% said they use a product because it comes in flavors they like, according to a study by the FDA and National Institute of Health.
Dozens of people packed into the council chambers Tuesday to speak on the proposed ban — a crowd council members said was the largest they’ve had since before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Commenters ranged from concerned parents to tobacco retailers, with opponents arguing the ban would hurt local tobacco-selling businesses and result in young tobacco users buying products online or in neighboring cities.
“(The ban) would put a bunch of people out of business and not let people over 21 purchase those products,” said Councilwoman Kendra Black. “For me, a better solution would be making sure that people are not selling to people under 21.”
In 2019, around 22% of tobacco retail stores in Denver were found to be violating age mandates — meaning retailers were not checking IDs or were knowingly selling to people under the age of 21, said Tristan Sanders, Denver’s director of community and behavioral health.
These checks were suspended during the COVID-19 pandemic, but since they restarted more than a month ago, the rate of retailers violating age mandates is up to 40% for the 20% of stores checked so far, Sanders said.
Other arguments against the ban included that it is unneeded because tobacco use is already decreasing among teens. In 2020, 1.73 million fewer middle and high school students were using tobacco compared to 2019, according to the FDA. That decrease was largely led by a drop in e-cigarette use among youth.
In the end, the committee voted to push the vote on the ban back three weeks to allow the council more time to discuss.
“I’d hate to see this fought out of the floor,” said Councilman Kevin Flynn, who proposed the postponement. “We all want the same goal; the question is, will this do it? Or will this create a lot of collateral damage and not change a dang thing?”
The safety committee will now reconsider the proposal on Oct. 27. If approved by the committee, the proposal would have to pass two full council votes before being implemented.
Sawyer and co-sponsor Councilwoman Debbie Ortega requested all council members attend the Oct. 27 committee meeting — not just the committee members — so they can have a full debate and consider any possible amendments to the ban.