Denver Government

Denver City Council Votes to Ban Sale of Most Flavored Tobacco, Vape Products

The ordinance would ban flavored vaping products and most flavored tobacco.
The ordinance would ban flavored vaping products and most flavored tobacco. Toshiro Shimada/Getty Images
On December 6, Denver City Council followed other Colorado municipalities such as Edgewater and Boulder in voting to ban the sale of most flavored tobacco and vaping products, starting in July 2023.

"I think there is an overall benefit to our youth, to our adults, to our health-care system," at-large councilmember Robin Kniech said during the December 6 meeting. "This bill, I don’t believe, was ever only about purchases in stores by youth. To me, it is about a much bigger set of public-health impacts that a 'yes' vote will provide."

Co-sponsored by councilmembers Amanda Sawyer and Debbie Ortega, the bill will prohibit the sale of menthol cigarettes, flavored vape juices, flavored chewing tobacco and most flavored cigars. Hookah products, pipe tobacco and premium cigars are exempted from the ban.

Sawyer and Ortega had pushed the proposal as a way to crack down on youth vaping, which ban proponents say has been exacerbated by the appeal of tasty flavors. The debate brought out lobbyists working on behalf of large tobacco companies and smaller retail vape shops, who went toe-to-toe in public comment with public-health advocates from groups like Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Eight councilmembers voted for the proposal; Kendra Black, Stacie Gilmore and Paul Kashmann voted against it.

"I hope that my fellow councilmembers will consider defeating this bill, because it will not prevent kids from getting their hands on vaping products, but it will shut these businesses down," Black said. "They have leases, they have bills, they have employees, and they are willing to come to the table to address the problem."

"I would’ve preferred us to look at a regulatory path first instead of looking at the end market," added Gilmore, the council president. "We have successfully in Denver regulated marijuana and alcohol. We want to keep kids safe, but we also want adults to be adults."

The bill is "not prohibition," Kniech countered. "I am not voting for prohibition tonight. I am voting for product limitations, just as we have voted for product limitations for other products in the State of Colorado."

The hookah, premium cigars and pipe tobacco exemptions came as a result of amendments offered by Kashmann and Jolon Clark; Kashmann also pushed the successful proposal to move the implementation date from July 2022 to July 2023. Councilman Kevin Flynn had proposed an amendment for menthol cigarettes, but that failed. A suggestion that flavored vaping products such be exempted for adults who are trying to quit smoking didn't win support, either; no flavored vaping product has been approved by the federal government as a certified smoking-cessation tool.

The approved ordinance now moves to the desk of Mayor Michael Hancock. "The mayor will take the next few days to review the legislation, understand its potential impacts and implications, and then decide whether to sign the bill or not," says Mike Strott, a spokesperson for Hancock.

If the mayor vetos the bill, it would head back to council, where nine members — a supermajority — would be required to override the veto. That could be a tough number to get, since both Flynn and Chris Herndon, who were absent on December 6, have previously opposed the ordinance as written.

And although he voted for the bill, at the meeting Clark broached the idea of amending the ordinance before it takes effect to exempt businesses that are 21-plus only, such as specialty vape shops.

"That’s what I hope we will do between now and July of 2023," Clark said.
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Conor McCormick-Cavanagh is a staff writer at Westword, where he covers a range of beats, including local politics, immigration and homelessness. He previously worked as a journalist in Tunisia and loves to talk New York sports.