Aspen City Council took a small step toward banning the sale of all flavored nicotine products Monday night.
In 4-0 vote, with councilmember Ann Mullins absent, the council elected to ban only the sale of flavored e-cigarette products, instead of a further-reaching ban of all flavored tobacco including menthol cigarettes and flavored chewing tobacco. The vote is symbolic and expected to be overturned at the council’s final regular meeting June 10.
“It could be the shortest lived legislation this council takes,” said outgoing council member Adam Frisch.
Frisch and Councilmember Bert Myrin are not in favor of extending the ban further to include all flavored tobacco products. However, Mayor Steve Skadron and council member Ward Hauestein stood behind the full ban, bringing the vote to a 2-2 stalemate. Because Mullins has been the most outspoken supporter of the full flavored tobacco ban, it is almost certain that if the vote was delayed the more comprehensive legislation would pass.
Myrin said that he could see where the vote was headed and suggested the goodwill measure of the vaping ban first.
“I think it would be helpful for the community to know that we are taking one step tonight,” Myrin said.
It is already illegal for anyone under 21 to buy tobacco products in Aspen and all vaping devices have been voluntarily removed from area convenience stores. Myrin said the flavored tobacco ban would be controlling decision making for what should be up to each individual adult to choose on their own.
“At what age can someone choose to ride a motorcycle without a helmet?” asked Myrin. Similarly, he said, individuals should be allowed to put their health at risk using flavored tobacco products, as long as it is not hurting others.
Frisch also advocated for those 21 years and older to have access to the products. He said unlike the council’s recent decision to raise the minimum age for purchasing tobacco and increase the cost, the flavor ban does not singularly address youth use.
“For two years we've been focused on a conversation about youth, and as soon as we go beyond that ... I have a hard time answering the question, ‘what about alcohol,’” Frisch said.
Council heard impassioned public comment from area health representatives who said that flavored nicotine in all of its forms is targeted at youth, with the goal of addicting customers for life. Risa Turetsky, health promotion program administrator for Pitkin County, told the council that nicotine products are increasingly becoming inconspicuous. She gave examples of a toothpick shaped nicotine device, or a powdered nicotine that you can dissolve in your mouth.
Mike Haisfield sells tobacco products in his two convenience stores in town. While voluntarily quit selling e-cigarettes, he still sells flavored tobacco products, and said the ban will hurt his business. He also said the ban is unnecessary because the previous tobacco legislation has been effective.
“Again, the age is 21 so they won’t be getting it from my store,” Haisfield said. He said education about the harmful effects of smoking is needed, but that he doesn’t see the need for controlling the actions of adults over 21.
But Skadron and Hauenstein both said the felt they needed to take a stand by passing the flavor ban on all tobacco products, not just vaping liquids. Hauenstein said he was supporting the half measure because he must vote in the affirmative to be able to move to reconsider the vote at the next meeting.
“To tell someone over 21 they can’t do something is just inherently against what I believe in, but I still support a full ban,” Hauenstein said. He said he understands and agrees with the argument that the ban is government overreach, but believes Aspen needs to set an example for public health policy.
“I like standing up and saying no to the tobacco industry and I like helping the next generation avoid addiction to the tobacco industry’s products,” Skadron said.
In order to move from the approved flavored e-cigarette ban passed Monday night to a full ban, the council will have to re open the discussion of the ordinance at their next regular meeting scheduled for June 10, and amend the language to include all flavored products.