Flavor ban bill dies in Senate committee as session scrambles to wrap up

Vape products for sale at a City Park West convenience store. Sept. 30, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

A bill banning flavored tobacco products failed to make it past key Democratic state senators Tuesday.

Members of the Senate appropriations committee voted down the bipartisan proposal, HB22-1064, on a 5-2 vote. Three Republicans were joined by Democratic state Sens. Robert Rodriguez and Rachel Zenzinger in voting no.

The bill had been heavily lobbied and one of the session's most high-profile and closely watched bills. But Gov. Jared Polis said he opposed it and said the issue should be handled at the local level.

Rep. Kyle Mullica, a Democrat from Northglenn, said he hoped the measure would help prevent young people from getting hooked on flavored vaping products.

“We've already seen a whole generation become addicted and (the bill) was going to do something about that and was going to make sure that we took a stand here in Colorado and that we put the health of our kids first,” said Mullica, one of four sponsors. “It's a little disappointing not seeing it get passed.”

Senate President Steve Fenberg signaled the demise of the bill with reporters earlier in the day. The Senate’s top Democrat said he didn't think there was time left in the calendar given everything else lawmakers had to finish.

Fenberg said he supports the bill and that he would have backed moving it forward had it come to the Senate earlier, implying the hold up was in the House.

The coalition fighting to pass the ban vowed to try again.

“The failure of the legislature to protect our kids won’t dissuade us from working at every level to get these products out of stores and out of our children’s hands,” said Jodi Radke, regional director for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

“The continued addiction of our children, and the lifelong health issues they will be shackled with, are not something we can or should look away from,” she said.

“Colorado rejecting the flavor ban is a signal for other jurisdictions to refocus public health efforts on what works — vaping,” said vape shop owner Amanda Wheeler with the Rocky Mountain Smoke Free Alliance. “Flavor bans won’t work, but promoting vape products does help adults quit smoking and keeps adults from relapsing to deadly cigarettes."

On Monday, the bill was still alive and moving through the Senate. The finance committee advanced it on a 4-1 vote. 

The debate in the committee echoed earlier hearings, with proponents saying the measure would prevent young people from taking up vaping or smoking and ultimately save lives and opponents saying the impact on small businesses would be big and the ban would penalize adults who vape.

Wheeler testified that companies selling flavored vapor products generate big tax revenues for the state.

“Our locally owned businesses provide 2,370 jobs in Colorado. In 2021, vapor businesses paid over 126 million in wages and over 85 million in state and federal taxes,” she said.

But University of California at San Francisco tobacco researcher Stanton Glantz says the ban would save Coloradans money. 

“We've estimated just a 1 percent reduction in cigarette smoking would save the state 46.3 million the following year in Medicaid costs,” Glantz said.