Montrose, CO — Citing public health safety, City Councilors are considering a change to the Municipal Code that would prohibit the underage use of personal vaporizers in public, in an attempt to prevent area youth from becoming addicted to nicotine while discouraging the use of electronic cigarettes altogether.
Councilors are prepared to take a deliberate, two-step approach to the change in order to consider and debate public feedback on the issue and secondly, allow time to educate as many people as possible before any such vaping ordinance could take effect.
More specifically, the change will redefine the city's tobacco ordinance to include any electronic device that contains and uses the addictive substance nicotine.
The city has an existing ordinance prohibiting the use of tobacco in public places by anyone under the age of 18. The change in the city code to include vaping could take effect early next year.
Vaping is characterized by the act of inhaling and exhaling the aerosol, or vapor, that is produced by an e-cigarette or other similar electronic nicotine delivery system. Most commonly the user will inhale and exhale large plumes of vapor, which can contain nicotine and other chemicals.
Electronic cigarettes, vape pens, electronic hookahs, personal vaporizers, and JUULs are the most common Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems, or ENDS. Since arriving on the market in the mid-2000s, the use of electronic cigarettes and personal vaporizers has increased dramatically in the United States and Colorado.
Earlier this month the state issued a health advisory citing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data that shows Colorado leading the nation in youth use of vapor products.
Vapor products are now the second most used substances among Colorado youth behind alcohol, according to a 2017 Healthy Kids Colorado survey.
The survey sampled approximately 56,000 youth from 190 randomly selected middle and high schools statewide.
Statewide the use of e-cigarettes is around 27 percent, according to the survey. The results showed 13 of Colorado's 64 counties, (mostly on the Western Slope), have the highest uses of e-cigarettes. Montrose County was one of the 13 counties highlighted in the data.
In Montrose County, the use of e-cigarettes is between 36 and 40 percent, according to the study. Montrose County sits within Region 10, which also includes Delta, Ouray, San Miguel, Gunnison and Hinsdale counties. Region 10 is described as one of the highest areas of e-cigarette usage in the state, according to the study.
During a Monday, November 19th work session, City Councilors, and staff debated changing the city code to include vaping within the tobacco ordinance and how to properly enforce any change in the ordinance.
Mary Boyers, a Montrose High School guidance counselor, explained the survey data to the council and concluded that Montrose is "very much in the midst of a crisis with our teenagers and their use of substances which are dangerous to them."
Boyers said the concern was not just about a teenager's lungs that can consume huge amounts of chemical-infused smoke, but also with the addictive nature of nicotine.
A single cartridge of "e-juice," the substance used in the personal vaporizer brand JUUL for example, can contain twice as much nicotine, 30-35 milligrams, as a pack of cigarettes.
"And it's (cartridge is) often consumed in a day or less by teenagers," Boyers said, adding a teenagers' brain is still developing and by adding nicotine to the system, the brain then works to add more nicotine receptors, therefore increasing the chance for addiction.
"Teen brains are particularly susceptible to the addictive nature of nicotine," Boyers said.
Within one year of vaping Boyers explained, many teenagers switch to smoking regular cigarettes.
The Healthy Kids Colorado survey found it was easy for 56 percent of kids to obtain cigarettes, and 58 percent said it was easier to obtain e-cigarettes.
City Attorney Stephen Alcorn read the proposed changes in city code to the council and reported that 15.1 percent of Montrose County’s population are smokers compared to the statewide average of 18.3 percent.
Alcorn said the ban on underage vaping would also include paraphernalia, or the personal vaping devices themselves.
"What we are saying is, where you can’t smoke, you can’t vape," Alcorn said. "Where adults may smoke, adults may vape."
Montrose Police Chief Blaine Hall said setting a target date for enforcing the new ordinance in 2019 will give school resource officers time to educate students about the ban. Students who regularly cross the street from Montrose High School to smoke, for example, will be warned of the ban several times before tickets will be issued, he said.
"Warnings would then turn into tickets," Hall added.
Mayor Pro-Tem David Bowman said the council should wait until after a community meeting scheduled for January 17 hosted by the Montrose County School District RE-1J. The issue of vaping is on the agenda for that meeting according to Bowman.
Bowman said it will be beneficial for the city to work with the school district to develop a strategy.
Councilors agreed any decision to change the Municipal Code to include vaping in the tobacco ordinance could take place in February, and a time deadline of 60 days after final passage of the change, would allow residents ample time to prepare for the change.
During this time flyers and other educational tools would be sent home for parents to understand. This effort would join a strong social media campaign to educate the public about the change.
Boyers told the council that three Colorado communities, Aspen, Avon, and Basalt, have already raised the age limit of vaping beyond 18, to 21 years of age.
Councilors said they encourage public feedback to the vaping issue and will return to debating the proposed code change at a future work session.
For more city news visit: CityOfMontrose.org.