Colorado Now Has Eight Cases Of Vape-Illness. Polis Says The State Is Looking For A Fix

Oregon Vaping Death
Craig Mitchelldyer/AP Photo
In this April 16, 2019, file photo, a researcher holds vape pens in a lab at Portland State University in in Portland, Ore.

Gov. Jared Polis has directed the state health department to explore options to reduce teenage vaping, he said Wednesday.  

“We've directed our staff to find out what we can do immediately without having to wait for the legislature or the ballot box," he told Colorado Matters' Ryan Warner.  He has asked the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to see what it can do.  

A wave of the illness associated with e-cigarettes has swept the nation, causing more than 500 cases in 38 states and 11 reported deaths. There are now eight cases of confirmed or probable vaping-related illness in the state, according to the state health department.  Six of those patients have been hospitalized.

Polis said other possible measures, like Tobacco-21 -- raising the legal purchase age for e-cigarette products from 18 to 21 -- would require legislative approval. A ballot measure to raise taxes on vaping products would need voter approval. A proposal for lawmakers to refer a hefty tax increase on nicotine and tobacco to the ballot failed in Colorado’s General Assembly last spring.

Governors in other states have issued sweeping orders, such as a four-month ban on the sale of all vaping products in Massachusetts, or a ban on flavored e-cigarettes in Michigan.

Polis says, unlike some other states, Colorado law limits what he can do under his direction. 

“There’s things that other states’ governors have done that are not in my authority to do,” he said. He said the state will explore what’s within its legal authority to do.   

More than 500 cities and counties in 30 states, including 10 local governments in Colorado, have raised the legal age to purchase vaping product to 21.  Eighteen states have done the same.

“It’s not something the governor can do, but if it’s something legislators want to work on, we’re happy to work with them on that concept,” Polis said.

Polis made clear he supports “closing the vaping loophole,” which exempts vape products from a tobacco tax. He said bringing the tax proposal back is “something we haven’t given up on. We’re hoping to pursue it.”

Colorado topped the nation for teen vaping in a survey of more than three dozen states last year.

Of the cases of vape-related illness in Colorado since August, two involved just marijuana, three were nicotine only and two involved both nicotine and marijuana.  One is still under investigation. Three of the cases were in Denver, two in Boulder and one each in Arapahoe, Jefferson and Weld counties. The median age of the cases is 18.