Colorado lawmakers are attempting to ban the sale of flavored tobacco and vapor products under the auspice of “protecting the children.”

Lindsey Stroud

It’s laudable to reduce youth use of age-restricted products, but a ban on all flavored tobacco and vapor products disregards data indicating youth are not overwhelmingly using combustible tobacco products.

This could lead to more harm than good and ultimately fails to address why youth use vapor products.

After an hours-long hearing in the Colorado House Health & Insurance Committee, House Bill 1064, which would ban flavors, advanced with significant amendments. What began as a ban on all flavored tobacco and vapor products now includes exemptions for premium cigars and pipe tobacco, as well as a provision permitting flavored products in age-restricted stores.

Sponsors of the legislation were disappointed with the amendments. The original sponsor claimed the new bill doesn’t “solve the problem [and they] don’t think that it’s going to work.”

What the sponsor doesn’t know is that flavored tobacco bans don’t work.

While youth use of e-cigarettes is a cause for some sort of action, including all tobacco products in a ban ignores the data that youth use of traditional tobacco products outside of vapes is at an all-time low.

In 2019, according to the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey (HKCS), 5.7 percent of Colorado high schoolers reported smoking a combustible cigarette on one or more days in the 30 days prior to the survey. This is a 46.7 percent decrease from 2013 when 10.7 percent of high school students reported past 30-day use.

Similarly, youth use of other tobacco products is at record lows. In 2013, 9.7 percent reported using cigar products in the past 30 days. By 2019, this had decreased by 58.8 percent to four percent of high schoolers. Even better, in 2019, only 2.6 percent of Colorado high schoolers reported past month use of smokeless tobacco products.

While youth are not using these products, adults in Colorado enjoy them and the state reaps numerous benefits such as excise taxes from such products being on a legal, regulated market and all that comes with such regulations.

In 2020, Colorado collected $140 million in state cigarette excise taxes and $82.4 million in tobacco settlement payments based upon the amount of tobacco sold in the state. These are attributed to legal products, yet the state s already burdened by untaxed, illegal tobacco products. In 2018, according to the Tax Foundation, smuggled cigarettes accounted for 8.9% of all cigarettes consumed in Colorado. Banning certain products will only increase smuggling, as already evidenced in Massachusetts, which has banned the sale of all flavored tobacco and vape products.

Massachusetts banned retail sales of flavored tobacco products in June 2020. This has been sharply felt in both excise-tax revenue and enforcement costs.

Between fiscal years 2020 and 2021, state cigarette excise taxes in Massachusetts decreased by 23.7%. This is directly attributed to the flavor ban. Between FY2016 and FY2020 cigarette tax revenue fell on average by 5.5% each year.

Across the boder in New Hampshire, cigarette tax collections increased by 18.1% during the same period, even as the number of smokers was decreasing

Further, Massachusetts has been forced to allocate additional state funding to its Illegal Tobacco Task Force to enforce the ban. In fact, between FY 2020 and 2021 budgets, state funding increased by 73% from $589,911 allocated to the task force in 2020 to more than $1 million in 2021 and 2022. This is even though revenue from cigarette sales has decreased.

The proposed ban that Colorado lawmakers are considering is an attempt to address youth vaping. Iin 2019, 25.9% of Colorado high school students reported using vapor tobacco within the past month.

But what has been overlooked by lawmakers is the reason why youth are using e-cigarettes, and it’s not because of flavors.

According to the latest Halthy Kids Colorado Survey, 45.5% of high school students that were current e-cigarette users reported using e-cigarettes because a friend or family member used them. Only 18.4% reported use because of flavors.

If Colorado truly wants to address youth use of vapor products, they ought to focus on legislation that focuses on such use – not other tobacco products. A ban on all products will only lessen the amount of revenue collected in excise taxes and cause increased costs due to enforcement while not “solving” the issue of youth vapor product use.

Lindsey Stroud, of Arlington Heights, Ill., is director of the Taxpayers Protection Alliance’s Consumer Center.

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