Denver Government

Denver City Council Fails to Override Mayor's Veto of Flavored Tobacco Ban

Vape shops in Denver will live to see another day.
Vape shops in Denver will live to see another day. Conor McCormick-Cavanagh
Smoke ’em if you got ’em: Flavored tobacco products are here to stay in Denver.

On December 13, Denver City Council failed to override Mayor Michael Hancock's veto of an ordinance that would have banned the sale of most flavored tobacco and vaping products as of July 2023. Council had passed the measure 8-3 on December 6; Hancock announced his veto three days later.

"It really comes down to priorities. Do we on council want to override this veto in the name of public health, or do we want to let it stand in the name of profit?" Councilwoman Amanda Sawyer, who co-sponsored the flavor ban ordinance with Councilwoman Debbie Ortega, asked before the vote on the veto override. The two councilmembers had framed the ordinance as a way to push back against youth vaping, since kids often cite flavors as a reason they're attracted to vaping.

Nine votes were needed for an override, and the final vote was 8-4. The 'no' votes came from Chris Herndon, Kevin Flynn, Kendra Black and Jolon Clark. While council president Stacie Gilmore was absent, she says that she would have voted against overriding the veto, too.

The ordinance would have exempted hookah tobacco, premium cigars and pipe tobacco from the ban. But all other flavored tobacco products, whether vape juices or menthol cigarettes, would have gotten the ax.

This was just the second time that Hancock had vetoed an ordinance passed by Denver City Council; the other sought to overturn a pit bull ban. Denver voters eventually reversed that ban themselves through a ballot measure.

In a letter to Denver City Council, Hancock, who'd said in the past that he supported a possible flavor ban, justified his veto by saying that he preferred to see a flavor ban imposed statewide through the Colorado Legislature, or "at the very least across the metro area in coordination with our metro area city and county partners."

Other Colorado municipalities, such as Boulder and Edgewater, have enacted flavored tobacco bans. And state lawmakers have toyed with the idea of enacting a statewide ban for years.

Hancock also expressed concern that the city's retail stores would lose business to stores located in neighboring municipalities. "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 wrote.

In recent months, the debate over the proposed ordinance had brought out lobbyists for large tobacco companies, hookah lounges and smaller vape shops, with vaping proponents pointing out that flavored products help adults quit cigarettes. They duked it out in council committee hearings with public-health advocates, who have long been pushing for Denver to enact a flavor ban.

“The Mayor’s veto was a tremendous loss for Denver’s kids and public health, and we are incredibly disappointed the City Council was unable to override it,” Jodi Radke, the regional director for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, says in a statement, adding that Hancock "sided with Big Tobacco over Denver’s kids, Denver voters and the 100+ organizations who support this policy."
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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.