Teen vape use is on the rise and has even been called an “epidemic” by concerned parents around the country. And it’s an issue that's apparently worse here in Boulder, than in most of the US.
Look: according to the 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, 45 percent of kids at Boulder Valley high have tried e-cigarettes (like Juuls or other vapes) at least once in their lives and 30 percent said that they currently use them. That’s compared to only 8 percent who’ve tried regular ol’ tobacco cigarettes.
On top of that, according to the Centers for Disease Control, between 2017 and 2018, there was a 78 percent increase in high school students using e-cigarettes.
And it isn’t just high school students either. Middle schoolers are ripping vapes, too, getting spun on nicotine concentrate at recess, between classes, in class and even at home — between '17-'18 the CDC saw a 50 percent increase in middle schoolers vaping.
Which illustrates something that should be obvious: kids like to vape. And when companies like Juul are advertising directly to them, telling them things like, vaping is "totally safe," their inclination to dabble only grows.
That is part of the reason why the Boulder City Council is considering policy changes that would make it much harder for middle and high school kids to vape. There are four proposed policy changes, that are being considered: 1) enforce a flavor ban (which would include all flavors except tobacco), 2) raise the legal age of purchase from 18 to 21+, 3) tax e-liquid like tobacco and 4) zone/permit establishments that sell e-liquid, similarly to liquor stores or dispensaries.
So, should this proposal pass, not only will it become more expensive and harder to obtain vapes and e-liquid cartridges in Boulder, but vapers would be limited to tobacco flavored nicotine only.
Which, is not fair to adult vapers, argues Ginger Tanner, who owns the Boulder Vapor House on the Hill. Many adults who vape, do so as an alternative to smoking combustable cigarettes and by clamping all these restrictions on vapes and vaping, the City of Boulder is going to disincentivize them from accessing the healthier option.
“We’re strongly against a flavor ban, because adult vapers like more than just tobacco flavor,” Tanner says. “Ultimately we are Boulder, we are a healthier town, and there is proof that vaping is a healthier alternative to smoking cigarettes.”
Why not let adults have access to that alternative, if they want it? She asks. “It’s about principals; it’s about helping adults make a switch off of cigarettes. That’s what it comes down to.”
That's a noble goal, no matter how you slice it. The problem, says City Councilman Aaron Brockett, is that kids aren’t switching from cigarettes, they’re just leaping straight to vapes. In part because it’s so accessible to them (seniors in high school can legally buy vapes and e-liquid). But it’s also because there isn’t that much education on vapes and their health effects, Brockett contends.
“You have kids who have all these educational materials about smoking [cigarettes] and how bad it is your for your health, so they're not going to smoke [cigarettes],” Brockett says. “But there's a perception that, ‘Hey, vaping is a lot healthier so it's not a big deal to do to that.’”
Just recently, Juul, one of the largest vape companies in the world, was raked over the Capitol Hill coals for having allegedly marketed directly to kids and for having peddled their products in school seminars as "safe to use," without expressing the dangers.
On top of that, Brockett argues that certain flavors appeal to kids more than adults, which is why the Council is discussing a flavor ban.
However, Tanner says that’s not necessarily true. “Adult vapers like more than just tobacco flavor,” she says. “They like mint, they like the stuff that tastes like cookies, the stuff that tastes like cotton candy or bubblegum.”
It’s not just kids buying these flavors, Tanner says. It’s adults too. And it’s honestly where the majority of her store’s income comes from: flavored e-liquid.
“If a flavor ban passed we would be closing our doors,” Tanner says solemnly. “It would hit us that hard.”
Which is particularly frustrating for her and her employees at the Boulder Vapor House. They’ve been running an extremely responsible business for the past six years. They’ve done everything they could to play by the rules and to do things the right way — and still, they’re being put in an dangerously tight spot.
“We’ve cared, we’ve educated, we’ve called the police to say that we’ve seen transients buying for kids outside,” Tanner says. “We’ve had professionals come in and properly educate employees on how to properly spot fake ID’s, how to use the ID scanner what to do if there is a fake ID that is found.”
The proposed licensing policy would make this the norm anywhere someone bought vape materials. At a gas station, at the grocery store, at a small smoke shop or a high end vapor house like Tanner’s, people will have to present legit ID’s that can pass the scan test in order to purchase e-liquid and vapes if this all passes.
And with the proposed age limit raise for all tobacco products, that ID better say 21 and up.
“The idea with the age change would be that it would make it harder for say a 16-year-old to get vaping material,” Explains councilman Brockett. “In particular there would be no high school students that would legally be able to buy materials.”
But, that knife cuts both ways. Because, 18-year-olds are technically adults. So are 19- and 20-year-olds. This age raise would mean that adult vapers out of high school wouldn’t have the option to buy these materials if they wanted to.
There is also a zoning aspect of these proposed vape policy changes which would mean that shops would have to be a certain distance from schools and could only operate out of certain city-approved buildings.
The only aspect of these changes that the public will have to vote on, is the proposed new taxes on e-liquid and vapes. Currently these products aren’t taxed and this measure would add a tax to them. But, The People have to vote in approval of new taxes.
The rest of these proposals? They only have to be given the thumbs up by city council.
“The nine members of city council have the right to push the age limit and flavor bans and permitting, without any public vote,” Tanner explains. Which is why she needs the public’s help, to raise their voices if they have something to say.
On August 13th (the second Tuesday of August) there is a public hearing at a city council meeting to discuss this topic, Tanner tells me. “That is most likely going to be the last chance to make any sway on this issue,” she says, adding, “If the council hasn’t already made up their minds prior.”
So, if you want to speak up and address the council about these policy changes, that is a good time to do it. Sign up online for a time to speak at that council meeting.
No doubt, both Brockett and Tanner will be there.
You can also email members of city council to tell them what you think of these measures, and whether or not you think they should be passed. Putting your voice, opinion and thoughts out there is the best way to take action.
“This was brought to us by a group of concerned citizens in town,” Brockett says. “Concerned citizens and parents saying ‘Hey we've got a real issue on our hands. Is there anything that you can do about it?’”
“People should try and understand, that, if you are a smoker and you’re looking for an alternative to smoking, that that alternative won’t be there if this change is made,” says Tanner. “People are going to have to drive somewhere else, they’re going to have to buy online, they’re not going to have the same knowledgeable staff here to walk them through everything.”
Which really highlites the underlying flaw behind these proposed changes: kids will still be able to get vapes and e-liquid, in any flavor they want, untaxed and legally at 18-years old, even if all these measures pass. They'll just go elsewhere, outside of Boulder, to get them.