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Opinion: Boulder misses the mark on e-cigarettes

Everyone is concerned about the uptick in teen vaping. But too often the regulatory response is misguided, which makes it harder for adult smokers to quit, and threatens to undo decades of work done to reduce teen smoking. 

Boulder, like many other states and municipalities, is considering an e-cigarette flavor ban. This would prohibit the sale of flavored nicotine products, including menthol. 

Amanda Wheeler

While lawmakers — and parents — applaud this as an effort to protect teens, these kinds of restrictions threaten to limit healthier options for adult smokers.

Nearly half a million Americans die from smoking-related illnesses each year — and in Colorado smoking is responsible for more than 5,000 deaths annually. And e-cigarette flavor bans, like the one being considered in Boulder, will likely make it harder for some smokers to quit.

Boulder is not the only city in Colorado focused on teen vaping — nor is it the only one to introduce a flavor ban. Earlier this year, Gov. Jared Polis set the wheels in motion by proposing a new tax on nicotine products, including e-cigarettes.

And in April the Colorado General Assembly passed a law allowing local municipalities to pass regulations on cigarettes, e-cigarettes and other nicotine products.

Crested Butte approved a resolution this spring to initiate a 40% tax on vapor products. And Aspen recently became the first city in the state to institute an e-cigarette flavor ban.

But Colorado lawmakers are being shortsighted by passing these anti vaping ordinances. Vaping and e-cigarettes are a critical form of harm reduction for adult smokers — and we ought to consider that when making public policy.

READ: Colorado Sun opinion columnists.

The research has shown repeatedly that vaping is far safer than smoking. Researchers at Public Health England (PHE) determined vaping is 95 percent safer than smoking.

It’s true, e-cigarettes contain nicotine, which is addictive, but the harm from traditional smoking comes from the toxins released by burning tobacco. And these toxins are what lead to smoking-related diseases like emphysema, asthma, lung cancer and heart disease. 

Lawmakers are also ignoring the research that shows e-cigarettes are the most effective tool for helping adult smokers quit.

A study published earlier this year in the New England Journal of Medicine found that smokers who used e-cigarettes to quit were twice as successful as those who relied on other nicotine replacement therapies like gum or patches.

Even more recent investigations found a similar public health benefit, in which daily e-cigarette use “was associated with a 77% increased odds of prolonged” abstinence.

It’s understandable that parents are worried. And it’s reasonable that lawmakers throughout Colorado — and across the nation — want to address constituent concerns. But all of these new taxes, bans, and restrictions on e-cigarettes have unintended consequences.

For example, critics are especially concerned about e-cigarette flavors — like in Boulder — which they claim make the products more appealing to teens. But nearly 40 percent of adult smokers in one study acknowledged that restricting e-cigarette choices and flavors would make it less likely that they would limit or quit smoking. 

And other restrictive regulations have had similar effects. Pennsylvania imposed a 40 percent wholesale tax on e-cigarettes, only to find teen vaping increased afterward. Equally concerning is the impact taxes like these have on lower income, adult smokers who are trying to make better choices.

High taxes make these products prohibitively expensive for the people who need them the most. Similarly, outright bans — like the one recently passed in San Francisco — eliminate the safer alternative while leaving traditional cigarettes in stores.  

I have two children and certainly want them to make healthy lifestyle choices. But one way to do that is to support harm-reduction policies that improve public health.

Amanda Wheeler owns Jvapes E-Liquid and is also the vice president of Rocky Mountain Smoke Free Alliance, a non-profit organization representing small business owners in the Colorado vaping industry.


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