Colorado Government

Proposed Ban on Flavored Nicotine Goes Up in Smoke at Legislature

Governor Polis may have vetoed the bill, even if it had passed through the legislature.
Governor Polis may have vetoed the bill, even if it had passed through the legislature. Toshiro Shimada/Getty Images
In the mad rush to pass as many bills as possible before the Colorado General Assembly must adjourn before midnight on May 11, state lawmakers have ended their efforts to ban the sale of flavored nicotine products.

For now.

"It didn't have the votes this late in the session," says Senator Kevin Priola, a Republican from Henderson who co-sponsored House Bill 1164 with Representative Kyle Mullica, a Democrat from Federal Heights; Representative Jennifer Bacon, a Denver Democrat; and Senator Rhonda Fields, a Democrat from Aurora. The sponsors had hoped to use the measure to reduce the number of kids who are getting hooked on nicotine through flavored vaping products.

HB 1164 was sweeping in nature. Although there were carve-outs for certain items, such as hookah tobacco, the ban would have outlawed the sale of menthol cigarettes, flavored chewing tobacco and all flavored vape juices, whether sold in a cartridge or in a bottle.

In March, the Colorado House Health and Insurance Committee had watered down the bill significantly — and against the wishes of the sponsors — by exempting 21-plus vape shops from the flavor ban. In further negotiations, the sponsors were able to remove this exemption from the final version of the bill before it was passed by the full House on May 4.

But the bill lost momentum in the Senate. And on May 10, in the interest of saving time and getting other measures through, the Senate Appropriations Committee opted to kill it. Even if the Senate had managed to pass the bill before the end of the session, Governor Jared Polis had implied that he would have vetoed the measure.

“The Governor has signed legislation providing local governments authority to regulate tobacco products. As a general philosophy, the Governor prefers local control because our local governments are closest to the people they represent, and can determine whether additional regulations are warranted above and beyond what the state requires. He does not support the bill as written, and prefers to allow the local control laws he’s previously signed determine if future state-level regulations are even needed," Conor Cahill, a spokesperson for Polis, had told Westword in March.

When asked more recently whether the governor planned to veto the bill if it passed, Cahill declined to comment.

The fight at the Capitol over flavored tobacco has been massive, with public-health advocates, Big Tobacco representatives, vape-shop owners and consumers all weighing in on the legislation. A total of 261 lobbyists had signed up to work on the issue, whether for or against it.

The state battle began after a contentious debate in Denver in late 2021 over a ban on flavored tobacco.

In December, Denver City Council voted 8-3 in favor of a flavor ban that would have exempted certain products, such as hookah tobacco. But Mayor Michael Hancock then vetoed the measure, saying that by exempting certain products and not others, the ordinance would be picking winners and losers. Hancock also said that he wanted the state, rather than the City of Denver, to handle a flavored tobacco ban.

"As the Mayor stated in his veto letter to City Council, he believes any such ban should be done statewide, or at the very least regionally, as absent similar bans in our neighboring communities, it is not a prohibitive enough barrier if our youth are simply able to travel across Denver’s border to the nearest convenience store and obtain flavored tobacco products," says Theresa Marchetta, a spokesperson for the mayor. Had Hancock known what would happen to the bill in the legislature, he would not have taken a different approach last year, she adds.

And while the flavor-ban proposal is dead for now, it could get a second life at the legislature next session.

"I believe it is sound policy that will help kids stay healthy and reduce health-care costs," says Priola. "I'd be proud to carry it again."
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.