Denver Mayor Michael Hancock vetoed a bill that would have banned the sale of most flavored tobacco and vaping products in the city in 2023, saying the ban wouldn’t do enough to curb teen use of vaping products and would harm small businesses.
Hancock sent a letter Friday morning to City Council explaining his decision and calling the proposed ban flawed while the councilwoman who sponsored the bill will ask council to override the veto at Monday night’s meeting.
Hancock said a Denver ban would not shield children from using nicotine and tobacco products because they would be available in surrounding counties. It would be more effective and appropriate to pursue a statewide ban through the legislature, he wrote.
“Denver is one of dozens of cities in our metro area, and absent similar bans in our neighboring communities, it is not a prohibitive enough barrier if our youth are simply able to travel across Denver’s border to the nearest convenience store and obtain flavored tobacco products. We cannot appropriately address the public health impacts of youth tobacco use if that public health response occurs only in Denver,” the letter said.
Hancock also said the ban would destroy many small, minority-owned retail stores.
“If we were to institute this ban only within our jurisdiction, many local businesses and business owners would experience a severe drop in their income, some may choose to locate to other jurisdictions where such a ban is not in place, and others would have to close their businesses entirely, leaving their employees out of a job. This economic disruption will be felt by Denver alone,” the letter said.
The veto was cheered by those who opposed the ban.
“I can say we are breathing a sigh of relief today,” said Michelle Vandrusko, owner of Cignot in northwest Denver. “We are happy to hear Hancock wants to work with us instead of just putting us out of business.”
Denver City Council approved the ban on most flavored tobacco and vaping products on Dec. 6, and the ban would have been effective in July 2023. Under the new law, adults in Denver only would be able to buy flavored smoking products in hookah lounges and cigar and pipe shops.
The issue also divided health advocates, Big Tobacco, mom-and-pop smoke shops and hookah lounges as the various sides argued why their businesses should be protected. Council’s debate over the ban stretched for months, and lobbyists put pressure on the city’s politicians to vote in their favor. Some Council members said it was the most heated proposal they’d seen in years.
The idea to ban flavored smoking products originated with Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer, who said it started after her teen daughter was included in a text message chain with classmates who were trying to illegally buy flavored vaping products.
On Friday, Sawyer and the bill’s co-sponsor, Councilwoman Debbie Ortega, issued a statement saying, “We are disappointed in this outcome, but we don’t think anyone in Denver will be surprised to hear that our Mayor chose profit over people. Make no mistake, this is public health issue.”
The original bill was amended to allow hookah lounges and cigar shops to keep selling flavored products. Hancock said he didn’t agree with the strategy to carve out exceptions.
“Moreover, providing an exemption for natural cigars and hookah lounges puts us in a position of not only picking winners and losers in this ban, but also raises equity concerns that certain businesses and residents should not face the burdens this ban will place on others,” the letter to council said.
The Friday veto was only the second time Hancock has used that executive power in his 10-year tenure. He vetoed a bill in 2020 that would have repealed the city’s ban on pit bulls. Later that year, the city’s voters overturned the ban on the dog breed.
This is a developing news story and will be updated.
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