Bill to ban flavored tobacco faces uncertain future

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DENVER — A bill to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products in the state faces an uncertain future in the legislature.

House Bill 22-1064 was one of the first introduced during this legislative session. He calls for a ban on the sale of flavorings such as fruit, mint, candies, spices and menthol. The goal is to bring down youth vaping rates in the state.

“A whole generation of kids have become addicted to these products thanks to these flavors like cotton candy, unicorn poo. You can’t tell me you’re not marketing to kids, when you look at these flavors , and that’s where we’re going to stop,” said Rep. Kyle Mullica, a Democrat and lead sponsor of the bill.

About half a dozen cities, including Boulder and Aspen, have already moved to ban flavored nicotine in their jurisdiction. Towards the end of 2021, the City of Denver attempted to make a similar move.

However, Mayor Michael Hancock vetoed the bill, saying he believed it should be a state approach and not a patchwork of local ordinances. Now, state lawmakers are in turn debating flavored tobacco products.

The bill has sponsors from both political parties. It is far from bipartisan, however, facing strong opposition from Republicans, some Democrats and businesses. He also faces powerful lobbying efforts behind the scenes.

“This is the most lobbying I’ve ever seen on an issue,” Mullica said. “These are very rich and powerful industries that have been able to hire very good representatives here in this building.”

Lobbying efforts include big national brands like Kum & Go, 7-Eleven and JUUL, among others.

Since its introduction in January, it has been passed by a few House committees, but has more or less stalled in the Legislative Assembly.
Now, with just 12 days left in the session, the fate of the bill is uncertain. In addition to a hectic legislative schedule, there’s another wrinkle to the proposed flavored tobacco ban: Universal pre-K.

This week, Governor Jared Polis signed a bill giving 4-year-olds in Colorado access to 10 hours of preschool education per week at no cost to families starting next fall.

The catch is that the program would be primarily funded by a tax on tobacco products.

“This bill represents $55 million in revenue for the state, and the governor is going to have to make a very difficult choice between a bill that bans flavored nicotine products and his Department of Early Childhood,” said Republican Rep. Hugh McKean of the House. Minority leader.

A budget analysis predicts the bill could cost the state $15.6 million in the 2023-24 fiscal year and another $31 million the following year.

“We can’t keep writing checks. You must make a choice. And so, it’s either pre-K and you find a new revenue stream for it, or it’s pre-K and you don’t and the flavor ban doesn’t go forward,” McKean said.

McKean sees this more as a problem of local control; he wants individual cities to be able to determine what is best for them without interference from the state. This is one of the few areas where he and Polis are in agreement.

The governor has also voiced his opposition to the bill, though he insists it’s not because of what the bill will mean for his universal pre-k plan.

“Generally, the governor prefers local control because our local governments are closest to the people they represent and can determine whether additional regulations are warranted beyond what the state requires. He does not support the bill as written and prefers to allow the local oversight laws he previously signed to determine whether future state-level regulations are even necessary,” a gatekeeper said. word in a press release sent to Denver7.

Mullica acknowledges that there will be a tax impact in pre-K, but he doesn’t think it will be as much as the tax analysis predicts since not everyone will quit.

Despite opposition from Republicans, industry and even some members of his own party, he still believes the bill has a chance, and he says it’s not the first time he’s opposes the governor for something he believes in.

“We all recognize that he has concerns with the bill, but we’re more than willing to sit down with him and try to find solutions,” he said.

Mullica doesn’t like the idea of ​​funding education from so-called “sin taxes,” but he says he respects the will of voters. However, he doesn’t buy the Republican argument that the choice is either to fund universal pre-K or ban flavored tobacco.

“The health of our children is not worth universal preschool funding. We can understand the monetary elements of that,” Mullica said. “We can do both.”

As an ER nurse and uncle to a teenager who recently ended up in the ER due to vaping, Mullica insists this problem simply cannot wait for public health reasons.

As the state debates its role in whether or not to ban flavored tobacco, the federal government is also intervening.

On Thursday, the Food and Drug Administration proposed a rule banning the sale of menthol-flavored tobacco products.

The FDA found that a possible ban could significantly reduce disease and death from tobacco use, which is the leading cause of preventable death in the country.

African Americans and other racial and ethnic groups make up the majority of menthol users.

“The proposed rules represent an important step in advancing health equity by significantly reducing tobacco-related health disparities,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement. Press.

The federal government’s action makes the fate of the state bill all the more uncertain. What is not uncertain, however, is that lawmakers have 12 days to determine whether they want to go ahead with the policy or kill the bill as they did with a similar proposal there. two years ago.

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