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A bottle of unflavored American Vapor liquid containing nicotine, left, and a bottle of “Strazz Melonade” flavored American Vapor concentrate without nicotine were purchased Friday from Red Star Vapor in Boulder. The products expose a loophole in a Boulder ordinance that banned flavored vaping products with nicotine and raised the age of purchase to all nicotine products to 21 that took effect Thursday.
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Boulder’s flavored vapor ban already has fallen short of completely eradicating palate-pleasing nicotine from city limits.

A form of vapor products for e-cigarettes allowing nicotine users to get their favorite tastes lives on through Red Star Vapor, 3370 Arapahoe Ave.

After consulting with City Attorney Tom Carr, Red Star leaders determined the shop could continue to offer its do-it-yourself vapor mixes under Boulder’s prohibition of flavored vapor sales, which kicked in Thursday after city council agreed to new rules in response to parent concerns of skyrocketing youth use.

While Boulder sought to exile vapor products tasting like anything other than tobacco itself, its new law evidently failed to catch many Red Star products with the regulation. They remain legal to sell in Boulder because its tasteless nicotine-based product is sold separately from the flavoring agent, allowing customers to simply mix the contents of the two distinct containers together and then vape and still stimulate taste buds. The city’s ban apparently only applies to pre-mixed flavored products.

A reporter, among other customers, at Red Star on Friday was able to buy a tasteless nicotine-containing base product and, separately, a variety of flavoring known as Strazz Melonade, a combination of strawberry, raspberry, watermelon and lemonade, although the Camera staffer owns no vaping device. All flavors aside from menthol, sales of which are set to be banned starting in 2020, were supposed to be off of shelves after the rules took effect.

Carr said he hopes the new council seated after the election will take a second glance at the rule in light of the discrepancy.

“We learned about this after the ordinance passed,” Carr said. “No ordinance is perfect and we will be asking council to revisit the ordinance in the new year to address concerns such as this.”

Red Star District Manager Katie Godsil, who oversees the four-state chain’s eight Colorado stores, said the separated vapor materials sliding through Boulder’s new rules are nothing new to the business’ inventory, and have been offered for years.

“This is not just us trying to find a loophole,” Godsil said.

While the manager admitted the vaping business environment is “nerve-wracking,” with federal officials also considering a flavor ban, Godsil is pleased the Boulder shop can at least temporarily retail flavors that sway smokers of traditional cigarettes to vaping. Godsil is aware the city could tweak the law to crack down on Red Star’s ability to sell nicotine and flavors separately.

“If this means that my team has their jobs for that much longer and our customers could buy the things they wanted, that’s what was important to me,” Godsil said. “… We’ve really learned to grow and adapt. Our largest goal is to help customers quit smoking.”

Godsil believes Red Star is the only business in Boulder offering the do-it-yourself mixes that let vapor flavors remain legal to purchase.

Store employees are not allowed to mix the components in-store for customers, but provide directions on how to do so in person, and on Red Star’s website.

“We here at Red Star want to do everything we can to abide by the laws,” Godsil said, adding the company is “excited” for Boulder’s age bump from 18 to 21 to legally purchase nicotine or tobacco that also took effect this week.

Even people who don’t vape may find a use for the Red Star-manufactured flavors sold on their own. Godsil said they are food-grade, meaning they are safe to use while free from the nicotine to flavor homemade candy or other goodies. They are made from propylene glycol, which the Food and Drug Administration has deemed as generally safe, and meeting specifications of its Food Chemicals Codex.

State officials urge caution to vape users.

“The FDA has the authority to regulate ingredients in nicotine vaping products, but currently they are not,” Colorado Tobacco Communication Strategist Alison Reidmohr said. “As a result, it’s hard to know whether mix-it-yourself products would be more harmful than those that are pre-mixed because there is very little known about what either product actually contains. Because of the ongoing cases of lung illnesses related to vaping, we urge everyone to stop vaping until more is known about what’s causing these illnesses.”

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