A heavily lobbied, bipartisan effort to ban the sale of flavored tobacco and nicotine products, including menthol cigarettes, in Colorado was rejected by a state Senate committee Tuesday morning, punting the issue back to cities and counties.
The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 5-2 to reject House Bill 1064, with Democratic Sens. Robert Rodriguez and Rachel Zenzinger joining the three Republicans on the committee in voting against the measure.
The legislation, which was aimed at reducing teen tobacco and nicotine use, faced slim odds of becoming law due to opposition from Democratic Gov. Jared Polis, who said that he would prefer the issue to be regulated at the local level. The bill also was projected to siphon some $25 million annually from Polis’ fledgling free preschool program, a Polis campaign promise which is funded through taxes on tobacco and nicotine products.
The demise of House Bill 1064 comes about 36 hours before Colorado’s 2022 legislative session ends. It also comes after the Biden administration last month announced it would be trying to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars.
“Smoking in schools have been going on since before I was born,” Rodriguez said before voting “no” on the bill. “And I don’t know if this is going to stop that.”
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A number of cities and towns in Colorado have passed flavored nicotine and tobacco bans, but several mayors have requested state action because they say a patchwork of policies wouldn’t be effective.
“It is not a prohibitive enough barrier if our youth are simply able to travel across Denver’s border to the nearest convenience store and obtain flavored tobacco products,” Denver Mayor Michael Hancock, who vetoed a flavored tobacco ban in the Mile High City last year, wrote in a letter explaining his thinking.
State Rep. Kyle Mullica, a Federal Heights Democrat who was a prime sponsor of the bill, said the measure’s demise was “incredibly disappointing” and that he would continue to push for a ban on flavored tobacco and nicotine products.
“We ran House Bill 1064 because we wanted to fight for the health of our communities and kids,” he said. “The science and data is on our side. This is an epidemic our state is facing.”
He said the well-funded tobacco industry was, at least in part, responsible for the bill’s failure.
They had “business on the line,” he said. “But when we look at policy down here, I don’t know how we don’t put the health of our kids first.”
Altria and another tobacco giant, Reynolds American, respectively spent $149,000 and $173,000 on lobbying in Colorado from July 2021 through the end of March.
The national nonprofit Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which was leading the charge to pass the bill, spent nearly $181,000 on lobbying through the end of March. It had 25 lobbyists and lobbying firms working on the measure.