COLORADO — With just one week left of the legislative session, state lawmakers are trying to get several bills passed, including one that would ban flavored tobacco products.
House Bill 1064 aims to curb youth tobacco and nicotine use by prohibiting the sale of flavored tobacco products such as vape, e-cigarettes, menthol cigarettes, and chewing tobacco.
"House Bill 1064 would have a tremendous impact on small businesses. There are a lot of unattended consequences, but it's most of all going to hurt our employees. This industry treats their employees really well, we take pride in what they earn and benefits. They are the people who are going to most suffer from this," said Phil Guerin, Owner of Myxed Up Creations.
Guerin owns five stores in Denver, Aurora, Grand Junction, Pueblo, and Colorado Springs. He believes the ban could hurt many convenience stores, vape shops, and the funding stream to universal pre-K — without doing anything to lessen tobacco use.
"This is not to address the problem, this is a little bit of window dressing, an easy fix. The solution is a little deeper, it comes down to education," said Guerin. "The local and state governments are attacking our industry but we are fighting for people and their help at the end of the day. We've been the ones ahead of this, making sure we're doing the right things and policing in our community."
Proponents of the bill think there needs to be even more done to keep these products out of youth hands and minorities.
"The bill is necessary for the African American community or any community to ban these products at this time. As African Americans, we have the highest preventable deaths of menthol cigarettes. It's important that we get Governor Polis to pass this bill," said Sondra Young, President of the NAACP Denver Branch.
Young says her community has been disproportionately hurt by the tobacco industry.
"85 Percent of Black Americans smoke menthol cigarettes compared to 21 percent of white Americans because it masks the flavor of nicotine. This is the way they're able to give this to our community and kids. Giving flavored cigarettes with nicotine caters to us because we like the flavors and our children like the flavors," said Young.
"I had a background in public education, and I had the privilege of serving on the Denver Public School Board. Our board voted unanimously to support a flavor ban in Denver because of the impact we saw it was having on our students. We saw tons and tons of expense cartridges. We saw students ducking into their backpacks or behind books vaping with devices that look like highlighters. The truth of the matter is that level of distraction matched to what we know to be true about the the impacts of tobacco and nicotine on bodies just pushed us to this position where we need to do something about it," said Rep. Jennifer Bacon, (D) Denver.
While it may not be a solution to the problem, Bacon hopes it can make it make a difference.
"We know that this will affect a critical mass of people. When we were doing our financial analysis, even keeping 2 or 3 percent of potential users off of tobacco saves the state millions of dollars. We know that young people use this because they find opportunities, it's easy access. Young people aren't walking into the stores, we didn't see overwhelming data that said kids are walking into stores with fake ID's. They are getting it easily handed to them and they're using it because the flavor masks the harshness of tobacco. If people can't get a hold of flavors, we think it will bring down the amount of use," said Bacon.
"This bill will help our children and the African American community to have less impacts and heath issues. We have preventable diseases, and we want to make sure the ones that we can prevent, that we do prevent. As we say in the NAACP, when we fight, we win," said Young.
"We need to fight for our rights. As Colorado voters, we voted for the right to have legal marijuana. The politicians didn't give that to us, and would have never given it to us. They were actually putting us in jail for that. As citizens, voters, or even concerned people, you've got to fight for our rights as adults," said Guerin.
If passed, the bill would have taken effect this July, but state legislators says implementation has been delayed 18 months to allow small businesses time to change or liquidate products.