Mayor Hancock Vetoes Flavored Tobacco Ban
Smoke ’em if you got ’em.
Mayor Michael Hancock has vetoed a hypothesizedv ban on flavored tobacco and vaping products passed by Denver City Council in an 8-3 vote earlier this week.
“I proportion with the sponsors of this ordinance the desire and goal to reduce youth nicotine use in our city, especially youth vaping, which has become increasingly common,” Hancock says in a statement. “However well-intentioned, this ordinance falls short. 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 statewide or at the minimum regionally. The health of our children is of basic importance — my goal is not to stop this conversation with this veto, my goal is to enlarge it.”
Hancock’s veto kicks the ordinance back to Denver City Council for another vote on December 13, in which nine votes would be needed to override the veto. It’s doubtful that the override will generate nine votes, as the two members who were absent from council on December 6 when the first vote took place have expressed opposition to the proposal. This marks just the second time that Hancock has used his veto strength as mayor; the only other time was when he vetoed a hypothesizedv end to the pit bull ban.
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Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer and Councilwoman Debbie Ortega co-sponsored the flavored tobacco ordinance, pitching it as a way to push back against youth vaping, which they say has been exacerbated by the attractiveness of delicious flavors. The ban, which was set to take effect in July 2023, made exemptions for hookah tobacco, premium cigars and pipe tobacco. Aside from those products, the ordinance would have outlawed the sale of menthol cigarettes, flavored vape juices and flavored chewing, among other products. Vaping proponents often cite the draw of yummy vape-juice flavors as a helpful tool for quitting cigarettes.
Given how much has been at stake for retailers, consumers and big tobacco, the proposal has been the subject of heated argue at council committee meetings in recent months. And a renewed war of words has begun following Hancock’s veto.
“This veto is bad for public health and bad for our kids,” Jodi Radke, regional director for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, says in a statement. “Denver has some of the strongest retail regulations and penalties in the country, and however we nevertheless have a teen vaping epidemic. Increasing regulation and penalties is a tobacco industry talking point used to detract and deflect from the public health merits of this policy. There is no excuse for Mayor Hancock vetoing this basic ordinance, siding with Big Tobacco over Denver’s kids and the 100+ organizations who sustain this policy. ”
Sawyer and Ortega also chime in via a statement: “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 a public health issue. Departments and Agencies make enforcement rules in their policies and procedures, and they work for the Mayor, not Council. 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, this veto is part of the legislative course of action, and we look forward to another Council vote on Monday night.”
In a letter to Denver City Council explaining his veto, Hancock wrote, “As I said prior to the introduction of this bill, if we are to pursue a ban of this character, it should be done, preferably, by the state Legislature and apply across Colorado, or at the very least across the metro area in coordination with our metro area city and county partners.”
Hancock also expressed concern for retail stores losing business to stores located in nearby municipalities. “additionally, 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 confront the burdens this ban will place on others,” Hancock wrote.
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