County commissioners passed the first reading of Ordinance 2019-01 at the Monday Board of County Commissioners meeting. If passed on second reading, the ordinance would regulate non cigarette tobacco product sales such as vapes in unincorporated areas of Otero County.

Michael Mustang of the county tobacco coalition, Health Department Director Rick Ritter, and County Coroner Bob Fowler attended the meeting on Monday to discuss the purpose of the ordinance and the motivation behind it.

Primarily, Fowler stressed, this ordinance is a step toward protecting local youth from becoming the latest victims of retail drug addiction.

"Right now with vaping, tobacco, non cigarette tobacco products, all of the big tobacco companies need 4,000 new users a day, nationwide, in order to maintain their corporate integrity," Fowler said. "4,000 per day. Pretty scary."

Fowler said Big Tobacco spends an upward of a million dollars an hour in advertising aimed specifically at youth. The logic behind such a rich investment, Fowler explained, is that once Big Tobacco has a teenager or young adult trying tobacco products, they are essentially hooked for life.

"As we know, once somebody tries a tobacco product or a vaping product and it has nicotine in it, they're hooked from day one," said Fowler. "It is as addictive as alcohol, cocaine, heroine, and even with the new vaping that we're talking about (that) this ordinance will cover, they say they are nicotine free, they are not."

"Once you get that younger person to get a nicotine product for the first time, they are going to use it again and again, more often, then they are going to go to the other products."

The county tobacco coalition researched Big Tobacco marketing strategies years ago, Fowler said, and they discovered that tobacco companies intentionally target poor, rural areas with marketing campaigns.

"About four years ago we pulled that survey and our entire quadrant of southeast Colorado was one that they are aiming at. I even had some of their advertisements come to our house," said Fowler. "That's what we're looking at. Poor, economic areas is where they want to get these people started. 26%, roughly, were the latest figures of high school students (that) have tried a vape with nicotine or a vape or cigarette or a tobacco product in the past 30 days. That's pretty high."

Ordinance 2019-01 is all about local control, according to Fowler, meaning that it is not trying to meet any state mandate; it was written by County Attorney Nathan Schultz and is to be enforced by local law enforcement.

Similar ordinances have already been implemented in the cities of Rocky Ford and La Junta. This ordinance will target unincorporated areas of the county specifically.

Fowler said this ordinance, if passed, would put Otero County ahead of every other county in the state as far as regulating vapes and other non cigarette tobacco products.

"Governor Polis now in June was looking at the vaping issue," Fowler said. "Well, we had the vaping issue three years ago. We sent the vaping units out to have them tested and found out what's in there is not what's in there."

In recent weeks reports have surfaced that both THC and nicotine vape products have resulted in lung illnesses.

Colorado Public Radio reported on Sept. 25 that up to eight cases of vape-induced lung illnesses had been recorded in Colorado.

Fowler called the illness "popcorn lung."

"They found out when they were making microwave popcorn, these people were inhaling the oils," Fowler said. "It was forming popcorn lung which is called bronchilisis obliterance, which sounds like they obliterate their lungs, which it does, they look like they're full of popcorn."

Essentially the same thing was happening with the oils people inhale when they vape.

"Our youth now are getting those same things in those vaping units and at this point, we don't know who even sells them," said Fowler. "This ordinance will make that, anybody that sells any of these products, will now be under that ordinance. it'll open them up so we have better control."

Health Department Director Rick Ritter applauded the ordinance for its inclusion of local control. He said one of the Center for Disease Control's best practices is the use of local ordinances and local control.

"There's not been a lot of local control," Ritter said. "In fact, Colorado is behind as far as regulating tobacco. Other states do licensing as I recall from our conversation. We haven't been licensing it, we haven't been doing this local control so we are ahead of the game. It's not good to be there as far as vaping - that's what we are trying to turn around."

Commissioners approved the first reading of Ordinance 2019-01. The ordinance must pass a second reading before it can be implemented. That second reading is scheduled for Oct. 15, and Commissioner Keith Goodwin encouraged the public to submit their thoughts, questions and concerns regarding the prospective law before the second reading.