Boulder is the latest Colorado community to take up what officials call an “epidemic” of teen vaping and consider more regulations on electronic cigarettes. Boulder City Council heard from more than 50 people at a public hearing last night as they consider a ban on flavored nicotine and tobacco products; raising the age for purchase; and increasing the product price. KGNU’s Roz Brown says many residents who testified favor new restrictions, but several business owners who sell the products were on also hand to share their stories.
Until 10 years ago, vaping was not even a word – now it’s considered an epidemic among U.S. teenagers. Eddie Harnett is an assistant principal at Boulder High School and says vaping is happening everywhere on the Arapahoe campus, from the bathrooms to the classrooms.
“We’re battling apparel companies that are making hoodies that have a tube and students are coming to school and hiding that they have a vape pen and doing it in class,” said an exasperated Harnett.
Harnett is not exaggerating the Boulder problem – which along with Aspen and other communities in the Roaring Fork Valley has the highest rates of e-cigarette use in the state, according to surveys. That’s why Boulder is considering rules that would ban sales of flavored nicotine and tobacco products, raise the age to purchase them from 18 to 21, and possibly ask voters to approve a city sales tax on such merchandise in this November’s election.
Eric Heydorn with the American Cancer Society drove from Denver to encourage the measures. Cigarette smoking is still the number one cause of preventable death and Heydorn believes e-cigarettes are causing a new generation to become addicted.
“Flavored e-cigarettes have flooded the market, with one study finding 15,000 unique flavors on the market in 2017,” said Heydorn. “And it’s often paired with flashy marketing campaigns aimed at kids.”
But Denver social justice advocate for drug policy Art Way, who supports boosting the purchase age from 18 to 21, argued that other changes should be carefully finessed.
“I think when we stray from sound policy is when you include methanol within this flavor ban,” said Way. “I think history has shown us that if you ban popular adult substances or activities you are dealing with an inherent problematic concern.”
Joshua Sprague with the Rocky Mountain Smoke-free Alliance owns four vaping stores along the Front Range with 26 employees. He’s concerned about his livelihood.
“A 40% tax implemented in Pennsylvania put more than125 companies out of business within six month,” said Sprague.
When E-cigarettes were introduced in the U.S. around 2010, they were touted as being safer than cigarettes and a smoking cessation product to help many people reduce or even quit smoking. Ann Fulgham said that it worked for her.
“My story is pretty typical,” said Flugham. “I began smoking as a teenager and became a life-long smoker. Six years ago, one of my kids bought me an e-cigarette to try and I was successful using them and surprised at how easy it was to quit.”
Following Fulgham’s comments, Councilmember Lisa Morzel suggested she wasn’t sure she could support the ban on flavored products.
“I do think vaping is used to get people off of cigarettes, so having those flavors might help more people quit,” said Morzel.
Megan Figgins, a student at Nederland High School expressed a more urgent concern.
“I’ve noticed that on social media I see my peers constantly using it and posting about it online so younger kids think they should use it,” said Figgins.
Councilman Bob Yates asked Figgins if 18-years old were selling e-cigarettes to younger kids.
“Our middle and high school are combined in Nederland, and everyone knows when someone has their 18th birthday and younger kids immediately ask those who are of legal age to buy them e-cigarettes,” said Figgins.
Last month Aspen became the first city in the state to ban the sale of all flavored nicotine products, including those containing menthol. The prohibition applies to flavored cigarettes, cigars, e-cigarettes and vaping products. Boulder Attorney Tom Carr said many other Front Range cities are considering similar measures.
“Denver’s working on it, Broomfield had a hearing tonight night, and hearings have been held in Glenwood Springs and Carbondale,” said Carr.
Cindy Carlisle who spent four years on the council in the 1980s before winning reelection in 2017, reminded the audience of Boulder’s progressive history regarding cigarettes and smoking.
“When I was on council then, we implemented one of the first bans on smoking at the Crossroads Mall and then outdoor bans, so as a historical reminder, we were really stepping out on this issue decades ago,” said Carlisle.
As of June, two states and more than 200 local governments across the country have passed restrictions on e-cigarettes. Boulder City Council did not take any votes, instead giving staff direction on rules they will consider at a meeting next month.