DENVER — Denver Mayor Michael Hancock has vetoed the ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products within county limits, the city announced Friday around noon.
Council Bill 1182 prohibits the sale of any tobacco product or component that’s meant to disguise the taste of the product. Flavors can include fruit, chocolate, vanilla and candy.
In a statement, Hancock said he wants to reduce youth nicotine use in the city, especially youth vaping. However he said he believed Council Bill 1182 fell short of its goal.
"We can work on this in a more collaborative way and we can also move to enhance our existing regulatory framework, in addition to pursuing a broader strategy by acting state-wide or at least regionally," he said. "The health of our children is of critical importance — my goal is not to stop this conversation with this veto, my goal is to broaden it.”
In the letter Hancock sent to Denver City Council, he explained two main reasons for the veto.
First, he said if Denver has this protective action but neighboring counties do not, it has the same sort of effect as mask-wearing orders related to COVID-19 when counties next to each other do not align their orders. He said if Denver wanted to pursue this sort of ban, it should be through the state legislature so it applies to all of Colorado, or at least the entire metro area in partnership with Denver's city and county partners.
"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," he wrote in the letter.
As an example, he said when talk of prohibiting smoking in Denver bars, restaurants and hotels popped up in 2005 and 2006, Hancock worked with then-Mayor John Hickenlooper to make the conversation a statewide discussion, instead of creating "a patchwork of regulations."
In his second reason for the veto, he said many convenience stores get a significant portion of their revenue from flavored tobacco product sales, and many of those shops are small and minority-owned.
"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," the letter reads. "This economic disruption will be felt by Denver alone. 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."
Hancock said he wants to have more conversations with City Council to find other ways to get the tobacco products out of children's hands.
To kick things off, he said he instructed the Department of Public Health & Environment and its Executive Director Bob McDonald to start discussions with regional and state partners to review their efforts and ensure it "aligns with the public health significance of underage tobacco sales."
On Monday, Denver’s City Council voted 8-3 to approve the ban. To override Hancock's veto, City Council will need nine votes in support of the ban.
Councilmembers Amanda Sawyer and Debbie Ortega, the sponsors of the measure, said in a statement they believe Hancock “chose profit over people.”
“Make no mistake, this is public health issue. Departments and Agencies make enforcement rules in their policies and procedures, and they work for the Mayor, not Council,” they said in a statement. “If the Mayor believes increased enforcement would be effective to address this epidemic, those changes could have taken place at any time. So far, he has chosen not to do anything, but we appreciate his partnership in continuing this discussion.”
“That said,” they added, “this veto is part of the legislative process, and we look forward to another Council vote on Monday night.”
Supporters said Council Bill 1182 would help deter teenagers and Denver’s youth from trying tobacco. Opponents, including vape shop owners, said these products should not be banned for adults over 21 and that it’s a matter of personal choice.