Dec 13, 2021 - News

Mayor's veto on flavored tobacco ban reveals rifts in City Hall

Denver Mayor Michael Hancock pictured at a press conference in May. Photo: David Zalubowski/AP Photo

Denver's elected officials are expected to duke it out Monday night on the floor of City Hall.

State of play: Mayor Michael Hancock delivered a surprise veto on Friday, his second-ever, to block the flavored tobacco ban that council members passed four days earlier.

  • A supermajority, or nine votes, is now needed to override the mayor's decision. Only eight council members have signaled support so far.

Why it matters: The clash is raising further questions about the state of cohesion and communication between Denver's chief policymakers and the city's chief executive.

Context: Council members had spent hours wrestling with and whittling away at the measure during a months-long process.

  • The mayor's office had indicated he wouldn't interfere if council came to a consensus, despite Hancock's concerns about pursuing a ban at the city level instead of in the state legislature, councilperson and ordinance sponsor Amanda Sawyer tells Axios.

What they're saying: "We stayed in close communication with the mayor's office the entire time," Sawyer says.

  • In a statement, she and ordinance co-sponsor Debbie Ortega chided Hancock for choosing "profit over people."

The big picture: The divisions at Denver City Hall run deep — and are growing — as a cohort of council members continue to challenge the strength of the city's executive branch.

The other side: In a letter addressed to council members, Hancock argued the ordinance will "not have the meaningful public health impact that is intended," but "instead will be outweighed by the equity challenges and negative impacts on certain communities and businesses."

  • While Hancock would prefer a statewide law or regional ban on flavored tobacco products, he said he plans to explore other options in the meantime, including raising the purchasing age for tobacco products to 21 and creating a new tobacco retail store licensing.

What to watch: Council members may have enough votes to refer a ban on flavored tobacco sales to the November 2022 ballot, as they did last year to successfully overrule Hancock's veto upholding the city's ban on pit bulls.

  • Meanwhile, Colorado House Speaker Alec Garnett tells Axios he's heard rumblings that a statewide bill banning the sale of flavored tobacco products will come up in 2022 after a similar bill died in the House last year.

This story first appeared in the Axios Denver newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.


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