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Denver mayor vetoes ordinance banning flavored tobacco

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock vetoed an ordinance Friday that would have banned flavored tobacco sales in the city. 

In a letter to City Council, Hancock said the ban wouldn’t be possible to properly enforced because it doesn’t prevent people from traveling to other jurisdictions to purchase the flavored tobacco products and accessories. 

Hancock also said the ordinance could disproportionately impact small and minority-owned businesses that rely on the products to make revenue.

“I am committed to continued discussions and partnership with City Council to take additional actions to keep harmful and addictive flavored tobacco products out of the hands of our children,” Hancock’s letter read in part. 

“We will review our current regulations and pursue stronger tools such as additional licensing requirements, expanded fine schedules that will act as a meaningful deterrent to bad actors, and increased enforcement of regulations already in place to ensure we are precisely, meaningfully and equitably addressing the problem of youth access to tobacco,” the mayor continued. 

The vetoed ordinance is Denver’s latest attempt to stymie youth nicotine use. In 2019, Denver became just the 11th city in the country to raise the minimum age to purchase tobacco to 21. The city also requires tobacco shops to obtain a specific business permit and operate under strict enforcement guidelines. 

The ordinance also revealed a rift inside City Hall as the measure passed City Council by a final vote of 8-3 before heading to Mayor Hancock’s desk. To override the veto, Denver’s charter requires that City Council pass the bill with at least nine votes. 

Councilmembers Debbie Ortega and Amanda Sawyer released a statement saying the mayor chose “profit over people.”

“Make no mistake, this is a public health issue,” their joint statement read. “… 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.”

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a libertarian think tank in Washington, D.C., described Denver’s attempted flavored tobacco ban and legislation like it across the country, as “little more than feckless gestures” because of the black markets the bills can create.

Michelle Minton, a senior fellow at CEI, told The Center Square that treating flavored tobacco in this way could push consumers to more dangerous products. 

“If Denver really cares about health and justice, the smarter move would be to restrict sale of flavored nicotine to adult-only shops, like they do with the myriad of flavored cannabis products,” Minton said. 

This article was originally posted on Denver mayor vetoes ordinance banning flavored tobacco

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