• Original Reporting
  • Sources Cited
Original Reporting This article contains new, firsthand information uncovered by its reporter(s). This includes directly interviewing sources and research / analysis of primary source documents.
Sources Cited As a news piece, this article cites verifiable, third-party sources which have all been thoroughly fact-checked and deemed credible by the Newsroom in accordance with the Civil Constitution.
A store selling vaping products in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

Colorado is headed toward joining more than a dozen other states that have banned vaping anywhere smoking is already prohibited.

It’s the latest effort by state lawmakers to help Colorado shed its rank as the No. 1 state for U.S. teen e-cigarette use.

“The reason that we are doing this — besides the fact that the U.S. surgeon general says that no exposure to the byproduct of vaping or e-cigarettes is healthy — is that we see in our youth that we’ve created a normative experience,” said Rep. Dafna Michaelson Jenet, a Commerce City Democrat who is bringing the measure. “Part of the reason our youth stopped smoking cigarettes is we showed them it was a non-healthy activity that we didn’t want in public spaces.”

House Bill 1076 cleared its first committee on Wednesday afternoon by a 10-1 vote, with bipartisan support. The legislation has backing from the medical community, with doctors warning during the hearing of a growing youth vaping problem, and restaurants, an industry worried about the health impacts on its workers from customers’ vaping.

MORE: Cigarettes all over again? Colorado has the highest youth vaping rate in the country

Ashley Brooks-Russell, an assistant professor at the Colorado School of Public Health studying adolescent substance use, called the policy an “essential update” to the state’s ban on indoor smoking, which was passed more than a decade ago.

“If we allow e-cigarettes to be used in public places, it falsely communicates that products are different from cigarettes or other tobacco products,” said Brooks-Russell, who also directs the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. “It reinforces the mistaken idea that these products are safe and acceptable for our youth to use.”

Greg Tung, another Colorado School of Public Health assistant professor, testified that the best available research also shows that e-cigarettes alone are not “useful for harm reduction and cessation” when it comes to cigarettes. In fact, it’s actually been associated with continued cigarette use.

Nick Hoover, representing the Colorado Restaurant Association and the state’s hotels, said both industries are in support of the bill. They are worried about the potential impacts of vaping, which medical professionals testified could be harmful, to their employees and non-vaping patrons.

Hoover said people might also use vaping to disguise substance use that is not permitted at the business.

“Our members have been talking about this, actually, for a little while now,” Hoover said. “Restaurant owners have a lot of concerns when they see individuals in their businesses vaping because they don’t know what that is that the individual is consuming on their licensed premise.”

Rep. Collin Larson, a Jefferson County Republican and restaurateur who is also a lead sponsor on the bill, said business owners want to avoid uncomfortable conversations with their patrons. He said he has told people who visit his restaurant that indoor vaping is illegal — even though it’s currently not — to get them to stop.

“I can assure you that this will be a sigh of relief for many restaurants who don’t want to get into a conflict with their customers,” he said.

The measure goes beyond just adding vaping to the state’s Clean Indoor Air Act, which prohibits smoking in indoor public places. It also further expands where smoking and vaping would be prohibited by:

  • Expanding the distance within which smoking near a building’s entry is banned to 25 feet from 15 feet
  • Removing the ability of local jurisdictions to allow people to smoke or vape within 15 feet of a building’s entry
  • Removing the option of property owners and managers to designate smoking and non-smoking areas
  • Adding synthetic marijuana and other plant products to the definition of smoking

MORE: Read more politics and government coverage from The Colorado Sun.

Backers of the bill initially faced opposition from vape shops, cigar shops, casinos and the marijuana industry, who were worried that the legislation would put them out of business. In response, amendments were added providing exceptions for shops that sell tobacco products where smoking or vaping is allowed under local ordinances.

Cannabis social clubs, approved by Denver voters in 2016, and potential “marijuana tasting rooms,” expected to be approved by the Colorado legislature this year, would also be exempt from the bill.

There also was a wave of medical marijuana users who voiced opposition to the bill during Wednesday’s hearing, saying they were anxious about the legislation barring them from using cannabis in an emergency. Those arguments were mostly rejected, however. Michaelson Jenet said the Americans with Disabilities Act should provide an exemption for those who need to vape pot in emergency situations.

“You can see it everywhere you go,” Michaelson Jenet said of vaping in indoor public places. “We know already that this is something the community is saying, ‘Hey, we don’t want this in our public spaces anymore.’”

There are 13 other states with some kind of law against indoor vaping, according to the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation. Florida’s legislature is also debating a ban this year.

Data from the American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation. Map by Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun.

In addition, a number of cities — including some in Colorado — have banned vaping in bars, restaurants and other workplaces. Many more states also have limited vaping on school grounds.

The Healthy Kids Colorado Survey revealed that 27 percent of the state’s teenagers vape — double the national average.

Another measure nearing passage in the Colorado legislature this year would give counties the same ability as cities and towns to change the minimum age to purchase tobacco and other nicotine products from 18 to 21. Aspen, Snowmass, Basalt and Carbondale, for instance, have in recent years raised the age to buy tobacco and nicotine products to 21.

That legislation, House Bill 1033, also aims to give local governments more leeway to tax tobacco and nicotine products.  

Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage....