If the Denver City Council would like to see what the future holds if they pass a flavored tobacco ban, they only need look to Massachusetts for evidence that it is doomed to fail by every measure. The numbers don’t lie. Massachusetts’ ban on the sale of flavored tobacco is an abject failure. The state lost over $140 million on menthol cigarettes alone, the regulated and enforced network of licensed retailers has been abandoned, and public health cannot claim a modicum of benefit. Add to that the impact to local businesses including reduced hours and lost jobs, and we see a failure by every measure – as was predicted by those who opposed the ban.
Proponents of the Massachusetts flavor ban capitalized on alarmingly high youth vaping rates and a THC vape scare, to convince the legislature and the governor to vacate the market and eliminate licensed, face-to-face gatekeepers for flavored tobacco. Despite data proving that flavored vape, not traditional tobacco products, was the overwhelming source of youth initiation, Massachusetts’ leaders bit on the propaganda and banned it all effective June 1, 2020. Now, some on the Denver City Council are forcing the mayor’s hand to do the same.
With nearly a full year and a half of cigarette excise tax stamp sales data now publicly available, presumptions give way to facts. In just the first 12 months, Massachusetts lost well north of $140 million while New Hampshire and Rhode Island combined, gained more than $64 million in newfound excise tax revenue. Worse, those states combined to sell 84% of the cigarettes no longer sold in Massachusetts, and verifiable increases in tobacco-flavored cigarettes and vape sales demonstrate that a significant percent of the remaining 14% just found new products in Massachusetts.
We can expect the same behavior from Denver consumers. And unlike Massachusetts residents, Denver consumers don’t need to cross state lines to make their purchases. They only need to drive a few miles or even a few blocks. The estimated total economic loss from a full flavor ban would be $81 million, a loss of more than 300 jobs, and $5.8 million in lost tax revenue and fees, just in the city of Denver. Responsible retailers in Denver have invested millions of dollars in licensing and inspection support the last few years to combat youth vaping. Retailers have partnered with the city and the state to enforce effective underage ID strategies and elimination of all street facing marketing, and Denver already has the most punitive ordinances for retailer violations. Let’s enforce laws already on the books and evaluate what’s working before diving into what we already know is a failure waiting to happen.
It makes no sense to support policies doing nothing but picking winners in other communities over Denver. It’s a confusing policy when this council votes to license us, but then bans tobacco products that kids are not using by any meaningful statistical measure. In November, Denver voters overwhelmingly supported and helped pass Proposition EE – which provides money for pre-K education, eviction assistance, tobacco cessation programs, and other health initiatives. When the time comes to accept state money or apply for grants, will the council keep Denver citizens from taking advantage of the benefits of Proposition EE? After all, if Denver citizens are not generating this revenue, why should Denver be eligible to receive proportionate services and support services that are generated from it?
So much has happened since late 2019 when the Massachusetts legislature passed its ban. Youth vape use rates have fallen by 60%, the federal government has banned all pod-based vape flavors except two, the postal service no longer ships e-cigarettes in the mail, and the FDA has eliminated nearly seven million vape products.
The state of Colorado has taken huge strides to address youth vaping and smoking. In 2020 alone the state of Colorado raised the age to buy vape and tobacco to 21 years, required tobacco licenses for all retailers, placed new restrictions on vapor advertising for retailers and banned new retail shops that sell tobacco from opening with 500 feet from a school. Additionally, online vapor sales were banned, and the number of retail inspections has been increased. Finally, the state passed historically high tax increases on tobacco and vape. All these measures were designed to lower youth vape and tobacco usage and should be given time to work. Flavor bans were never a sound policy maneuver, but the day to even discuss it has long passed.
Massachusetts lost jobs, forfeited revenue, and has nothing to show for it from a health benefit perspective. This is Denver’s future if it passes a flavor ban. We would be wise to not make the same mistake as the Bay State.
Grier Bailey is executive director of the Colorado/Wyoming Petroleum Marketers Association. Jonathan Shaer is executive director of the New England Convenience Store & Energy Marketers Assoc. (NECSEMA)
Our unofficial motto at Complete Colorado is “Always free, never fake, ” but annoyingly enough, our reporters, columnists and staff all want to be paid in actual US dollars rather than our preferred currency of pats on the back and a muttered kind word. Fact is that there’s an entire staff working every day to bring you the most timely and relevant political news (updated twice daily) from around the state on Complete’s main page aggregator, as well as top-notch original reporting and commentary on Page Two.
CLICK HERE TO LADLE A LITTLE GRAVY ON THE CREW AT COMPLETE COLORADO. You’ll be giving to the Independence Institute, the not-for-profit publisher of Complete Colorado, which makes your donation tax deductible. But rest assured that your giving will go specifically to the Complete Colorado news operation. Thanks for being a Complete Colorado reader, keep coming back.