New York City lawmakers have voted to ban flavored electronic cigarettes. AP Domestic
Fort Collins and Larimer County are crafting policies to combat youth vaping, including raising the legal age for buying tobacco products from 18 to 21.
Larimer County is working with Fort Collins, Loveland, Berthoud and other municipalities and stakeholders to develop regulations that could apply countywide, possibly including regional licensing for retailers of tobacco and vaping products and raising the legal age of purchase. Some Fort Collins City Council members said they might be interested in pursuing additional regulations locally, such as a ban of flavored vaping products and a local sales tax.
Larimer County commissioners asked Tom Gonzales, the county’s public health director, to spend the next three months collaborating with municipalities, retailers, youths and other involved groups and return with next steps in early February. Because Fort Collins staff will be involved in that process, they may be able to integrate some of City Council’s more stringent regulations, city manager Darin Atteberry told council earlier this month.
Voters would have to approve a sales tax on vaping products in accordance with the Colorado Taxpayer Bill of Rights.
About one-third of Larimer County high school students use nicotine vaping products, according to 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado Data. That’s higher than the state average of 27%, according to the same data set. The national average jumped from about 21% in 2018 to 27.5% in 2019, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The county is taking aim at youth access to vaping products because e-cigarette use has climbed rapidly in the last few years, jumping 78% between 2017 and 2018 nationally, said Andrea Clement-Johnson, health promotions division director for the county health department. Meanwhile, youth cigarette use has stayed stable or declined during recent years.
The majority of people who use tobacco or nicotine products start before age 18, Clement-Johnson said, and youth vaping is behind only alcohol use in terms of teens’ use of harmful substances. Nicotine, which is generally an ingredient in vaping fluid, is known to have negative health effects, particularly on the developing brain.
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Vaping retailers are relatively unregulated in Colorado, which is one of 13 states that doesn’t require a license to sell tobacco or nicotine products. About 290 retailers sell vaping products in Larimer County, county staff told commissioners, but that number might not be all-inclusive because of the lack of state-level licensing.
Local licensing would allow Larimer County to enforce its own regulations through warnings, fines or temporary sales restrictions for retailers caught selling tobacco products to teens, among other measures.
A law passed in the 2019 state legislative session allows municipalities to locally raise the age of purchase to 21, adopt their own regulatory or licensing schemes and adopt local taxes on vaping products. Until now, municipalities that created local licensing requirements lost state tax revenue on vaping products. Municipalities that adopt their own local sales taxes will forfeit the state tax revenue.
Since the legislation passed, at least Colorado 20 municipalities have raised or taken steps toward raising the legal age for tobacco purchases to 21, county staff said. At least eight communities successfully passed new taxes on e-cigarette sales in the November election.
County commissioners told staff at a Nov. 6 work session that they’d like to coordinate with area municipalities to create consistent regulations throughout the county. Larimer County’s regulations would apply only to retailers in unincorporated areas unless municipalities sign on.
“It’s a two-way street,” Commissioner Steve Johnson said. “We ought to all be on the same page if we want to have some effectiveness.”
Fort Collins City Council member Emily Gorgol mentioned her interest in a local sales tax and ban on flavored vaping products at the Nov. 19 council meeting. Council members Ross Cunniff and Kristin Stephens said they also wanted to learn more about regulatory options.
Some flavors, like bubble gum, seem “designed to appeal to youth,” Stephens said, noting that policymakers have similarly barred sales of marijuana gummy bears.
Council member Ken Summers supported the age increase and licensing requirements but was wary about banning flavored products.
“There’s more of an issue when it comes to the flavors because there are adults who do use vaping for nicotine cessation,” he said. “If you just do everything, you really don’t know what’s effective.”
Jacy Marmaduke covers government accountability for the Coloradoan. Follow her on Twitter @jacymarmaduke.
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