BRIGHTON — Nate Keller, the owner of Game Trader in downtown Brighton, said that his 16-year-old hobby and video game store would have gone under if he hadn’t begun selling vape pens and electronic cigarettes.
“This is probably all that’s kept us in business this year,” Keller said. “My revenue has gone up since I brought these in because of their popularity, and now I’m concerned that this ban is going to (hurt my business).”
In December, Brighton City Council passed an amendment to its city code that imposes the same use restrictions on electronic cigarettes and vapor pens as tobacco cigarettes.
Now, residents can’t use their electronic cigarettes or vapor pens in public places like sidewalks, inside buildings, at public parks or in cars with children in them.
The city’s move is in line with half a dozen other communities including Commerce City, Lakewood and Golden that have passed similar bans in the last few years.
Officials in Brighton’s community development department said the issue came up to council because the use and sales of electronic cigarettes has grown substantially in the last couple of years, and some residents were worried about health and safety.
During a public hearing process last fall, City Council reasoned that the devices are most similar to cigarettes and should be regulated the same way.
Keller said that because of the ban, he can’t allow his customers to sample the product in the store, and it’s hard to sell a $20 bottle of vape juice if someone can’t try it out first.
“The council voted to ban it in public areas and deem it a tobacco product, which I don’t understand,” Keller said. “The FDA, the federal government, the ATF, the state of Colorado — none of them have deemed it a tobacco product. Some of these things only have water and flavoring in them, and probably half our customers don’t even use the nicotine ones.”
The city’s ruling also says that local stores that sell nothing other than vape pens and e-cigarettes will have to get a tobacco sales license.
Although he would only need to do that if his vape pen sales exceeded 51 percent, Keller said that ruling is absurd because the devices are not tobacco products and, in his opinion, are the healthy alternative to cigarette smoking.
“Probably 99 percent of our customers were smokers who are vaping now,” Keller said. “I used to smoke two packs of cigarettes a day. That was my pattern for 28 years. Since I started vaping, I haven’t had a cigarette in almost a year.”
The ban passed through council with approval by everyone except Councilwoman Cynthia Martinez. She said she thinks the vote should have waited on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s ruling later this year to find out if the devises are dangerous at all.
“The FDA has not made an opinion on these devices — they’re still researching what the effects are,” Martinez said. “Of course, I don’t want to support vaping or e-cigarettes if it’s damaging to our children or the public or our community. I just wanted to wait until the FDA comes out with their decision so we know for sure.”
James Vargas opened his store, AlphaStar Vapes, just six months ago at 45 N. Main St. Unlike Keller, Vargas’ business exclusively sells electronic cigarettes, vapor pens, vape juice and their accessories.
Vargas said he thinks the city is jumping the gun on banning something that no one knows anything about.
“I’m a true believer in the product, and I wish more people would let the information come up before these kinds of decisions are made,” Vargas said. “I feel like there are a lot of misconceptions about these products. We have the capability of learning more, so it feels like (this ban) is take a step back when we (could) finally have a healthy alternative.”
Megan Mitchell: 303-954-2650, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/Mmitchelldp