Carbondale approves aggressive tobacco ban despite criticisms of ‘overreaction’
E-cigarettes, flavored cigarettes and cigars will not be sold in Carbondale after a new town ordinance takes effect later this fall.
Carbondale’s board of trustees approved the ban on flavored tobacco products Tuesday, following similar rules passed in Glenwood Springs in August.
The new rules require tobacco retailers to be licensed by the town — similar to alcohol retailers — and are meant to address youth nicotine consumption.
The ordinance bans the sale of flavored tobacco, defined as any product that has “distinguishable taste or aroma or both” of non-tobacco flavors, such as fruit, mint, menthol, herb, spice, vanilla, dessert, honey, etc.
The ban also prevents adults from purchasing popular menthol and flavored chewing tobacco, which could cause some inconvenience.
“This is a crisis,” Carbondale Mayor Dan Richardson said, “and by bringing awareness to this issue by causing an inconvenience, I think we heighten the importance of this crisis.”
Unlike Glenwood Springs, Carbondale has no dedicated store selling vaping products, and only a few of the nine retailers who sell tobacco products sell e-cigarettes.
Carbondale’s ordinance is somewhat symbolic, and in part is valuable for the message it sends.
Part of the issue, according to Roaring Fork High School Principal Lynn Bair, is students believe vaporized nicotine is safe.
The students don’t believe marijuana, cigarettes or alcohol is safe, but some still use it, Bair said.
“If the town could adopt some strong measures, that would really help us in terms of the education and restorative justice that can happen after that, so we can get this out of the schools,” Bair said.
The Roaring Fork Valley ranks far above the state in teen e-cigarette use, said Carrie Godes, a public health specialist with Garfield County.
From Aspen to Parachute, 53 percent of students say they have tried vaping, and 37 percent reported they have used e-cigarettes within the last 30 days, according to recent public health surveys.
“Our (youth e-cigarette use) rates locally are close to three times the national average,” Godes said, “and that is just unacceptable from a public health standpoint.”
Use of other tobacco products is also going up where previously it was declining in Garfield County, Godes said.
Tobacco’s addictiveness means “there is no safe amount of nicotine,” Godes said.
Two of the nine speakers at the public meeting were against the ban.
Brian Fojtik, a Denver-based representative with the National Association of Tobacco Outlets, said a full flavor ban was an overreaction, and would hurt people trying to quit smoking and old pipe smokers without addressing the way young people get vaping products.
“Between 85 and 90 percent of youth who access cigarettes or electronic cigarette vapor products acquire them not for traditional retail sources but from social sources, from friends, from family members, from even strangers visiting stores,” Fojtik said.
The town’s increase of the minimum purchasing age from 18 to 21 would likely remove many of those sources, Fojtik said.
Glenwood Springs Mayor Jonathan Godes, husband of Carrie, credited Carbondale with bringing the vaping issue to his attention, and inspiring his town council to take action.
Godes brought up the idea that the full flavor ban was an appropriate response to the scale of the region’s vaping epidemic.
“Is a full flavor ban an overreaction?” Godes said. “I personally don’t think so.”
In a crisis, some overreaction is warranted, he said.
“I think now is the time to potentially go a little further than maybe feel comfortable with and then worry about the outcome six months or a year from now, if you realize, ‘Well that that was a bridge too far,’” he added.
Several Carbondale trustees agreed that strong reaction was warranted even if it inconvenienced adult tobacco users, including those who use e-cigarettes to quit smoking.
“I think it’s fair to take a little bit of an overreaction because we are reacting to the way the industry was able to essentially ramrod this through to the marketplace,” Richardson said.
Many trustees indicated the sweet flavors of e-cigarettes appear to be marketed to children.
In addition to the licensing requirement and flavor ban, the town added a stipulation that retailers who violate the ordinance or sell to someone younger than 21 must complete workforce training programs approved by the town.
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