Columbus’ new ban on flavored tobacco products faces challenge from Ohio lawmakers
December 12, 2022
the columbus dispatch

Columbus City Council’s fresh ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes and vaping within the city is facing an immediate challenge from state lawmakers.

“The prevalence of tobacco use in our community is a public health crisis,” said City Council member Shayla Favor, who introduced the legislation which passed unanimously Monday.

Just hours after the legislation passed, state lawmakers launched an effort to prohibit bans like the one Columbus leaders approved.

The Senate Ways and Means Committee voted late Tuesday on an amendment added to another tobacco bill that would prohibit cities and other jurisdictions like Columbus from passing bans on flavored tobacco products.

The amendment says “The regulation of tobacco products and alternative nicotine products is a matter of general statewide concern that requires statewide regulation.”

Several people testified against the amendment before the committee voted to add it to the bill.

Loe Almeida of American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network said the amendment keeps cities from finding solutions to fight cancer. He said “big tobacco” is directly targeting young people with flavored tobacco products to “lure new young users.”

State Sen. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, spoke out against the amendment calling it a “dramatic removal of local control.”

House Bill 513 would need to pass through the Ohio Senate and House Wednesday as lawmakers hold their final sessions before the end of the current General Assembly. Any legislation not passed by the end of the year is dead and could return next year.

Dr. Mysheika Roberts, Columbus health commissioner, said that when you remove flavored tobacco, you eliminate the very products that make it easier to begin a lifelong addiction.

According to the legislation passed by Columbus City Council, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that 2 million U.S. middle school and high school students reported using e-cigarettes in 2021, with more than eight in 10 using flavored e-cigarettes, some that taste like cotton candy, fruits, coffee and milk.

“The insidious nature of tobacco in our schools is uncontrollable,” Favor said.

City Council has a busy meeting to end the year

During a busy 4 ½-hour year-end meeting, the council also passed legislation to create an Office of Violence Prevention that will work to reduce gun violence, conducting research and talking to community members about ideas.

It also rezoned property along Harmon Avenue in Franklinton so that the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health Board of Franklin County — ADAMH — can build a $59.9 million addiction and crisis center.

As far as the flavored tobacco ban is concerned, the legislation does not include criminal penalties on users but does impose civil penalties on sellers, Favor said.

Before Monday evening’s council meeting, City Council members and others talked about a new community tobacco cessation effort, to which the city is contributing $500,000, with another $500,000 from private partners.

Flavored tobacco called ‘a scourge in our communities’

Roberts called flavored tobacco “a scourge in our communities.” Beyond that, one in four Columbus adults smokes, and 39% of those smokers are Black. And she said that Columbus Public Health has seen an 8% increase in smoking rates for Black adults in Franklin County.

Banning flavored tobacco is a matter of health, well-being and equity, Roberts said.

“We know we must do more to help those already in the grip of addiction,” she said.

City Council President Shannon Hardin said he smokes menthol cigarettes and knows how difficult it is to quit.

Favor, who leads council’s health and human services committee, said there would be a robust multimedia campaign, with part of the effort specifically aimed at youths.

Flavored tobacco products and the Black community

Kenny Hampton, vice president of the African American Male Wellness Agency, said smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the Black community.

“We’re making a substantial investment in fighting tobacco addiction,” Hampton said.

Earlier this year, the Coalition to End Tobacco Targeting pressed for local legislation to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products, including e-cigarettes and menthol cigarettes, which companies historically have targeted to the Black community.

The provisions of the new legislation don’t apply to “shisha”-type tobacco smoked in hookah bars.

Congresswoman Joyce Beatty discusses the importance of ending the sale of flavored tobacco products during a summer news conference for the Coalition to End Tobacco Targeting.

Opposition and support for the ban

Opponents have said this ban would hurt local businesses.

David Schwartz, executive director of the New York Association of Wholesalers and Distributors, testified online that banning flavored tobacco in Columbus simply means that illegal enterprises would bring them in.

“You’re going to have cases and cases of menthol cigarettes brought into your jurisdiction,” Schwartz said. “The discriminatory effect of a menthol ban, you’re discriminating against every small business that sells tobacco products. You’re voting with emotion. You’re not voting with common sense.”

A South Linden resident said online that if the issue is about kids vaping in schools, “the city is not a parent.”

“Do you think banning something makes it go away?” she said.

Council member Nick Bankston said he has heard from business owners who fear harm. But he said there are larger moral and economic costs, including health care costs.

Council members said they will work with business owners over the next year to try to temper the effects.

Hardin said there were three small-business meetings, two City Council public hearings and a town hall for high school students to discuss the legislation.

In an emailed statement, Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said City Council should be credited for standing up to the tobacco industry and taking action to end the industry’s “predatory targeting of kids, Black Americans and other communities with flavored tobacco products.”

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to stop California from enforcing its ban on the sale of most flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes.

City Council creates an Office of Violence Prevention

The Office of Violence Prevention, created as part of other legislation passed Monday, was proposed by Franklin County’s former coroner, Dr. Anahi Ortiz, more than two years ago as homicides and crimes spiked in Columbus and is included in Mayor Andrew J. Ginther’s 2023 budget proposal.

The office will coordinate anti-violence efforts, including collecting data, doing research and collaborating with public and private partners to reduce gun violence through legislation.

The office will do a “violence reduction planning process,” with officials meeting with community leaders. The office will have an executive director, executive assistant, research and policy director, community-relations coordinator, data manager and analyst, grant writer and other staff members.

Other American cities, such as Austin, Texas; Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, New Orleans, New York City, Oakland, California; Philadelphia, and San Francisco, have similar offices. The office in Columbus will be Ohio’s first, said Rena Shak, in-house counsel and assistant policy director for the mayor’s office.

Other actions include rezoning for ADAMH facility

The City Council also rezoned 3 acres at 475 Harmon Ave. in Franklinton for the new ADAMH facility, a drop-off site that will include 16 inpatient beds, a substance-use treatment center, links to mental-health and substance-abuse services, a pharmacy and an urgent-care medical center.

The city and Franklin County both are contributing $10 million to the project, which currently is set to open in 2025. In January, officials said they were planning for a groundbreaking this past summer.

The council also rezoned 249 acres at 4001 Brice Road south of Shannon Road for 502 single-family homes, with 320 multifamily units and 94 twin-single units (think duplex where each side has an owner). The developer is D.R. Horton – Indiana LLC, which has a Westerville office.


The USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau contributed to this report.

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