The nicotine landscape in Colorado is likely to change in the near future, but it depends on what lawmakers do in the final days of this year’s legislative session.
Late last month, the US Food and Drug Administration proposed a ban on menthol in cigarettes and all non-tobacco flavorings in cigars. A bill will move forward in the Colorado legislature, prohibiting retailers from selling any tobacco product that is flavored, and outlawing products made with lab-made nicotine.
That broad definition would include e-cigarette liquid and most products other than “premium cigars” and hookah tobacco.
Both the proposed restrictions will apply to manufacturers, distributors and retailers. Possession and use of flavored tobacco products shall not be an offense.
There is widespread agreement in the public health community that banning cigarettes and cigar flavoring would save lives, but applying the same rules to e-cigarettes is more controversial.
Ted Wagner, director of the Center for Tobacco Research at The Ohio State University’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, said the ban on flavors in cigarettes and cigars is a clear public health victory, but when it comes to e-cigarettes, there is a need to reduce the risk to children. The benefits of nicotine have to be balanced against the risk that the vapor will turn into a combustible cigarette.
“It’s a little more complicated,” he said.
Menthol cigarettes are easy to start, hard to quit
In 2009, the FDA banned almost all flavors of cigarettes. However, it allowed menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars to remain in the market. Both menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars are used disproportionately by youth and African Americans.
One study estimates that removing menthol from cigarettes and cigars could prevent 650,000 tobacco-related deaths by 2060, as fewer people will start smoking and some menthol smokers will quit.
The problem isn’t that menthol is more dangerous, but that the cooling effect makes cigarette smoke less harsh, so younger users are more likely to retain the light, says National Medical Association president Dr. Rachel Villanueva, a group therapist representing Black.
Some research suggests that menthol also affects the way the body processes nicotine, leading to cigarette addiction.
“It’s easy to smoke … but equally risky,” she said.
About 85% of black smokers use menthol products, compared to about 30% of white smokers, and tobacco companies disproportionately advertise menthol cigarettes in places and publications popular with black people. Some have argued that banning those cigarettes would be discriminatory and encourage police to harass users.
Excessive policing is a concern, Villanueva said, but there is an increased risk of cancer and heart disease in smokers, as well as asthma in children exposed to secondhand smoke. Black smokers are more likely than white smokers to report that they want to quit, but are less likely to have success, and a tendency to use menthol cigarettes may be a factor, she said.
NAACP Denver President Sondra Young said at a rally Wednesday that stopping the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars is the organization’s top priority.
“There is no greater risk to the health and well-being of thousands of people than the health effects caused by these deadly products,” she said.
Kids and adults love the taste of e-cigarettes
Colorado’s proposal that would ban flavored e-cigarettes, House Bill 1064, passed the House and is waiting to be submitted to a Senate committee. But time is running out, as the legislature is set to be adjourned on Wednesday.
State Sen. Rhonda Fields, an Aurora Democrat who is spearheading the ban through the Senate, said it is not unusual for large bills to stall until the last days of the session. It could face amendments if it works through the Senate, and if it changes, go back to the House for consent.
“I’m looking forward to a rich dialogue about it,” she said. “Most people don’t like the trend of smoking, especially when it comes to the taste and our kids are addicted to it.”
It is not clear from the data from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey how youth smoking and vaping have been trending since last year 2019. Between 2017 and 2019, the percentage of high school students reporting at least 20 days in the previous month increased from 5.6% to 9.9%. The percentage reports they used cigarettes often ranged from 1.3% to 1.4%, but the difference was within the margin of error.
If the Colorado bill is passed, the state’s nonpartisan financial analysts warned that it would take a chunk out of the state budget because fewer people would buy highly taxed tobacco and nicotine products. The universal preschool program approved by voters in 2020 is heavily dependent on tobacco taxes, though lawmakers could find another funding source.
The sanctions have faced a rough road. In those cities, including Denver, the tobacco industry was heavily lobbied, sometimes through agents who did not declare who was paying them. Denver Mayor Michael Hancock vetoed a proposed citywide ban on menthol cigarettes and flavored e-cigarettes in December, saying it would be ineffective as long as those products remain available in surrounding counties, and that vape shops should be allowed to operate as businesses. will put out.
Nayla Pollard, a senior at Smoky Hill High School in Aurora and an African students union official, asked lawmakers to support the ban at a rally Wednesday.
“It’s too easy for kids to try vaping. These products are easy to hide and young people may not realize the harm they’re doing by using them.” “They look good and they taste good. By the time kids find out they’re addicted to tobacco, it’s too late.
Theoretically, any e-cigarette product that hasn’t gone through the FDA’s premarket process cannot be sold, but no one is implementing it. So far, the FDA has only allowed a handful of tobacco-flavored nicotine liquids to be sold, and has not decided on the most popular brands.
Wagner said flavored nicotine clearly appeals to young people, but adults who are switching from cigarettes seem to like it too. When smokers begin to use e-cigarettes, they replace nicotine, but miss other parts of the “sensory experience.” The flavors provide a different experience with their appeal rather than an incomplete cigarette experience, and they may undermine the brain’s connection between the taste and pleasure of tobacco, he said.
Wagner said that while cities have banned flavored nicotine liquid, youth use has dwindled, with fewer teens trying e-cigarettes. But use of regular cigarettes, which is a more dangerous product, increased in children who have risk factors that make them more likely to become nicotine users, he said.
“It’s a tricky topic, as the two products seem to be substitutes for each other,” he said. “You’re trying to thread the needle.”
Wagner said policies specifically targeted at youth use could be more effective, such as allowing the sale of flavored nicotine liquid only at stores that only serve customers 21 and older. Another option would be to ban or ban “nicotine salts,” a less-harsh version of the chemical used in some vape products that are most popular with youth, such as puff bars.
“Smokers get used to that (hardness),” he said. “No kids.”