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Juul products are displayed at a smoke shop in New York on Dec. 20, 2018. After a crackdown by the Food and Drug Administration in 2018, Juul discontinued flavors that were seen as marketed to teens. (Seth Wenig, The Associated Press)

State Rep. Yadira Caraveo plans to introduce legislation in the coming weeks to ban flavored vaping products as a way to curb what officials say are crisis levels of teen e-cigarette use in Colorado.

“These flavors are targeted toward children, and really are meant, in my opinion, as a way to addict a new generation after all the strides we made against cigarette smoking,” said the Thornton Democrat, who is a pediatrician.

Caraveo cites statistics from a Food and Drug Administration study showing that a majority of teens who vape in the U.S. say that flavored products are one of the main attractions. She also points to a study showing that almost every teen who vapes says they started off with a flavored product. 

Other states, like New York, have banned flavored vaping products, though through executive action by their governors.New Jersey’s legislature this week passed a package of legislation outlawing flavored vaping products. 

One potential hurdle that could spoil Caraveo’s plans: Gov. Jared Polis, who has shown a libertarian streak on health issues, including vaccines. 

In a statement to The Colorado Sun in September, Polis’ spokesman, Conor Cahill, hedged about the idea of a flavored vaping ban. “The governor supports personal freedom and the ability for adults to make well-informed decisions for themselves. And in order to do that, the governor believes consumers deserve transparent and accessible information.”

Polis office didn’t return a request for comment on Tuesday night about the proposed ban.

Caraveo doesn’t think, however, that Polis’ door is necessarily closed on the issue.

“We have had conversations, just sort of generally, between offices,” she said. “He said that we would continue to talk about it once legislation is introduced, but hasn’t told me an absolute yes or no.”

Caraveo unveiled her plans Monday night at The Colorado Sun’s “Big Ideas” forum at the University in Denver held in partnership with CBS4.

State Rep. Yadira Caraveo, D-Thornton, speaks at The Colorado Sun’s “Big Ideas” forum at the University of Denver on Tuesday, Jan. 14, 2020. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

Colin Larson, a Littleton Republican who has worked across the aisle on vaping issues at the Capitol before, is leery of the state telling adults what they can and can’t do.

“The way I always philosophically approach this issue is: I want to reduce teen and youth usage. But the second we get into talking about people out of high school and people that aren’t kids anymore … there are all kinds of things that aren’t good for us that we as a society tolerate, like alcohol, fatty foods,” he said. “And I’m a big believer that adults have a right to enjoy these kinds of products.”

Larson says he understands what Caraveo and others are trying to accomplish through a flavored vaping products ban. “A mango-flavored vape certainly does sound more enticing than a cigarette-flavored vape.” 

But his concerns persist about banning products intended for adult consumption. He also thinks that Colorado should wait until the federal government makes a decision on flavored vaping products before moving forward. 

“We would be wise to sit and wait and see what happens federally,” Larson said. “Because when you’re talking the selling of certain products, you’re getting into interstate commerce issues.”

The vaping industry strongly rejects the assertion that they’ve been marketing to children. The popular vape brand Juul didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but told The Sun last year that it has taken “aggressive actions” to combat youth vaping. 

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, a Democrat, continues to investigate whether Juul marketed its products to kids.

It’s likely tobacco companies will spend heavily on lobbying and a public relations effort to halt legislation to ban flavored vaping products in Colorado.

A flavored vaping ban isn’t the only way the legislature and others are trying to tackle teen vaping. State lawmakers are working to shore up Colorado’s enforcement and implementation of the federal decision to raise the tobacco-purchase age nationwide to 21. 

The cigarette and vaping display at a convenience store in Denver’s Capitol Hill neighborhood on April 30, 2019. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

Also, forces outside of the state Capitol have filed six ballot initiatives in an attempt to ask voters in November to implement a universal nicotine tax and raise the tax on cigarettes. 

Vape products aren’t currently taxed in Colorado. Currently, a pack of cigarettes costs a consumer about 84 cents in taxes. The proposals would raise that by as little $1.20 and as much as $2.60.

In 2019, the Colorado legislature rejected an effort by Polis and Caraveo to ask voters to sign off on a universal nicotine tax hike. That was after the tobacco industry hired high-powered lobbyists and took out ads to ensure the initiative’s failure.

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....