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Vape shops push back against proposal to ban flavored vape products in Denver

Councilwoman says ban would include accessories
Vaping linked to higher risk of Covid-19 in teens, young adults
Posted at 5:07 PM, Oct 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-06 19:08:48-04

DENVER — If being a responsible business owner means being invested in the community, Philip Guerin, owner of Myxed Up Creations, may have a model formula.

“We’ve always tried to do the right thing,” Guerin said. “We’ve been in Mayfair for 28 years on Colfax Avenue. And when vape products came out, we stopped selling tobacco because these were a much better alternative than smoking tobacco.”

But now, a Denver City Council proposal threatens to ban flavored vape products, which vape shop owners say could crush their businesses.

“We specialize in getting smokers off of combustible cigarettes,” said Monica Vondruska, owner of Cignot Colorado on 38th Avenue.

She says she’s in the same boat as Guerin and other vape shop owners. About 92% of her business is flavored vape products and accessories.

“Our industry is constantly under attack,” Vondruska said. “We're on this boat, but a lot of politicians are passing legislation that keeps dumping more water into the boat. And then they ask us why we’re sinking.”

Denver City Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer’s proposed ban hits on a personal level for her, coming after an incident with her sixth-grade daughter.

“In March or April of this year, I got a text message from my daughter’s principal,” Sawyer said. “The text message said, ‘We just need to alert you that your daughter is on a text chain with someone who is trying to sell her and her friends vape products.’ (The kids) thought that flavors were fine. They thought that if it was cotton candy that it was not a problem.”

Sawyer says it’s time for someone to step in.

“Youth vaping is an epidemic,” Sawyer said. “So the proposal is to ban flavors — all flavors — and the accessories that go with it.”

Dr. Thomas Ylioja, clinical director for health initiatives at National Jewish Health, says it’s clear that flavors do attract youth.

“About 85% of youth who say they’re vaping are vaping with flavored products — especially fruit, candy and sweet flavors,” Ylioja said.

But he says there are also studies suggesting flavors help adults quit smoking.

“There’s almost nothing worse than smoking cigarettes when it comes to your health,” Ylioja said. “So, anything that helps somebody stop smoking is going to be a benefit.”

Luciano Neel says those flavored products helped him quit smoking.

“I was smoking about two packs a day,” Neel said. “And the flavors really make me not want to smoke. So, I just stopped.”

However, Ylioja also says there are better alternatives to help you quit smoking than vape products.

“Better products that are even less harmful to health like nicotine replacement therapy, including the patch, lozenges or gum,” Ylioja said.

Vondruska’s belief is that this ban will not only put her and others out of business, it will simply cause flavors to go underground.

“And bolstering the black market is not the way to go,” Vondruska said.

“At the end of the day, I have a strong moral compass,” Guerin said. “It’s easy for me to do what I do, knowing the products we sell help people to quit smoking. The argument that these flavors are for children – I think it’s bonkers. I think it’s bizarre, honestly.”

Vondruska says legitimate retailer’s police themselves

“We have 21 and up signs posted in at least five places inside and outside our shop,” Vondruska said. “We do not sell to underage users.”

Sawyer says it’s all about interfering early.

“If we can stop them from being smokers now, they won’t be smokers in the future,” Sawyer said. “We’ve got a public health crisis. We know there are costs associated with it.”

The proposal was discussed in committee on Wednesday, Oct. 6, but the committee postponed a vote on the measure until Oct. 27.

Colorado has an ongoing lawsuit against vaping manufacturer Juul filed in 2020 that claims the company used deceptive marketing and advertised toward children to try to get them addicted. Boulder and Carbondale banned flavored vape products in 2019.