You may have heard rumblings from the state Capitol building on the current debate about whether Colorado should end the sale of flavored nicotine and tobacco products. Maybe you’ve even taken a side.
Before you harden your views, let us speak frankly about why we are carrying a bill to do just that. The reality is, it’s the right thing to do and it’s urgent that we act now.
In 2021, Colorado banned the sale of these products to anyone under the age of 21. A measured step that we both supported. Our hope was that this would curb the alarming increase in youth nicotine use we had been seeing for years. But now we know this step was really just a half measure. One that continues to feed adult addiction at the expense of our kids.
Instead of reversing the trend, youth vaping is on the rise. A recent survey of Colorado youth found that one in four teens used e-cigarettes. National data tells us that eight out of 10 teens who use nicotine products start with flavored ones. That makes sense. They feature candy flavors such as bubble gum and blue raspberry that mask the harmful chemicals and addictive nature of the product. Sweet smells and small, unobtrusive delivery devices make them very difficult for parents and guardians to detect.
We know that our proposal concerns the vape shops currently open in Colorado along with the convenience stores and groceries that sell these addictive products. They want to continue to do business as usual, providing their wares to anyone old enough to buy them. To them we would say, you can continue to sell to adults the nicotine products to which they are addicted. But what you should not do, what you cannot do, is continue to sell products with cotton candy and pineapple mango flavors that are clearly aimed at enticing children to start a habit many will never be able to quit.
We know that about 60% of the youth who use flavored nicotine in Colorado through e-cigarettes do so not because they have purchased them illegally, but because an adult in their life or in a friends’ life purchased them legally and provided them. That’s the reality. Likely addicted adults are feeding new generations of teens who will become addicted themselves.
We have to ask ourselves, where does this end? And the answer we have come to is, with us.
We know the tobacco industry has spent billions of dollars and countless hours of effort ensuring they find new ways to keep people hooked on nicotine. They sold it as menthol, lasering in on communities of color and LGBTQ populations with heavy marketing. They delivered it as cigarettes until too many people wised up and realized it was killing us. Then they pivoted to flavored nicotine in e-cigarettes, targeting another generation with bright colors and tasty flavors that mask their carcinogens and addictive chemicals.
Now as we try to stop the sale of their newest creation, they cower behind individual vape shop owners who fear for the future of their small business, even though they launched that small business with the full knowledge that they were selling products that the federal government had already taken steps to ban. We understand the concerns of these small business owners and have increased the time allotted them to sell down their inventory and get out of the flavored nicotine business. They are still free to sell tobacco-flavored nicotine products to adults even after our bill becomes law.
But what they shouldn’t be free to do, what no one should be free to do, is provide products to our kids that are more addictive than heroine and sentence our kids to a lifetime of addiction, poor health and death.
Sen. Rhonda Fields is a Democrat from Aurora. Sen. Kevin Priola is a Republican from Henderson.