ASPEN • In its last policy decision before a new board was sworn in, the Aspen City Council has voted to ban the sale of flavored tobacco within the city limits.
The measure took an odd path on its way to becoming law by a 3-2 margin Monday night. Council member Ann Mullins, a strong proponent of the measure, was absent in the previous meeting.
Her vote was needed to see the measure through to an all-out ban, instead of just one that addressed e-cigarettes.
Over the past two years, the council has heard presentations from Dr. Kim Levin, the Pitkin County Board of Health’s medical officer, about the detrimental effects of tobacco on youths. This led to the council raising the minimum age to buy cigarettes from 18 to 21 and a public vote significantly increasing taxes on tobacco.
Levin contends that the flavors offered in vaping products are marketed to children, including “creme brulee” and “cotton candy.” She previously presented data to council showing that teens who use e-cigarettes are four times more likely to become smokers and that the Roaring Fork Valley has among the top rates of teen vaping in the state.
According to recent federal and state government reports, Colorado leads the country in the percentage of youths who vape — a number about twice the national average.
In Aspen, a handful of teenagers spoke during public comment, all in favor of passing the ban. The students, as young as middle school through high school seniors, all said they see their peers using tobacco products, or already trying to kick the habit.
Aspen high senior Emma Dominguez pointed out that students 18 or older can go down valley and buy products not subject to the 21 age limit in the city. They then sell them to younger kids within the school, she said.
“It’s a bigger issue that’s happening not just in Aspen but all over the world,” Dominguez said.
Council members Bert Myrin and Adam Frisch voted against the measure. Both have expressed hesitancy toward the ban as a borderline government overreach.
“I remain supportive of the goal, but I still believe we’ve moved away from helping youth,” Frisch said.
Council member Mullins was joined by Ward Hauenstien and Mayor Steve Skadron in passing the measure.
Mullins said the studies they’ve been shown over the course of their discussions point specifically to the effectiveness of a comprehensive ban that addresses all flavored tobacco types, not just vaping products.
She said along with overwhelming support from the community, to her there was only one option.
“I don’t know how council could not vote in favor of this amendment,” Mullins said.
The new ban will go into effect on Jan. 1. It includes cigarillos, snuff and chew, and classifies menthol as a flavor, meaning menthol cigarettes will be banned.
Later in the summer, city staff will propose a strategy for spending the additional tax dollars that have been raised since the tax hike went into effect.
“It’s a bigger issue that’s happening not just in Aspen but all over the world.” Emma Dominguez, 18, Aspen High School senior