Columbus City Council Unanimously Approves Ban on Sale of Flavored Tobacco Products

The Columbus City Council unanimously passed a ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products such as menthol cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and flavored vaping products on Monday.

City health officials said tobacco company marketing has historically targeted minorities and young people, and most people who begin smoking do so before they’re adults or in early adulthood.

“The strategy is simple, hold them while they’re young, and you get a customer for life. Well, that simply cannot stand in our community,” Mayor Andrew Ginther said.

City Councilmember Shyla Favor, who introduced the legislation, said “the prevalence of tobacco use in our community is a public health crisis.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that in 2021 2 million U.S. middle- and high-school students reported using e-cigarettes, with more than eight in 10 using flavored e-cigarettes, some that taste like candy, fruits, coffee, and milk.

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

The Columbus City Schools Board of Education also voted on a resolution supporting the city-wide ban saying children as young as middle school is using these products.

“I am telling you today I had to confiscate vapes, and I am telling you I teach middle school,” Kristin Dixon, teacher at Columbus City Schools, said.

Columbus Public Health Commission Dr. Mysheika Roberts said one in three black residents in the city are smokers and national data shows 85 percent of black smokers use menthol cigarettes.

The city council also announced a $1 million proposal called the “Comprehensive Tobacco Quitting Education and Awareness Campaign” to help people quit smoking. The council said the campaign will help connect people to resources to help them quit smoking.

Ginther said he is working with neighboring municipalities to develop similar bans to give the city’s efforts more reach.

The ban received pushback from local business owners saying that the measure will bring a negative economic impact.

David Schwarts, executive director of the New York Association of Wholesalers and Distributors, submitted online testimony that banning flavor tobacco in Columbus simply means that illegal enterprises will bring them in.

“You’re going to have case and cases of menthol cigarettes brought into your jurisdiction. 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,” Schwarts said.

Shop owner Abdul An Sur said with the flavored tobacco ban in place his customers will just go elsewhere.

“If you pass this legislation, I will be at a competitive disadvantage and my adult customers will go and purchase their preferred products along with their gas, prepared food and grocery items,” An Sur said.

Some individuals, such as the owner of Top Notch Vapor Sarah Rutland, said flavored vaping products helped her quit smoking cigarettes after nearly 20 years.

“If the ban goes into effect, it’s not just empty storefronts, it’s not just employees without a job, it’s going to impact people like me who decided that smoking was going to kill me,” Rutland said.

Other opponents of the ban say it encroaches on the freedoms of adult smokers.

“I think, for the most part, most people who use flavored tobacco products are consenting adults that should be able to have whatever vice they want,” Columbus resident Jack Bennett said.

According to Alex T. Boehnke, executive director of The Ohio Energy & Convenience Association, and Beth Wymer, executive director of the Ohio Wholesale Marketers Association, the ban “won’t boost public health but will only bust local business, increase crime, and put consumers at risk.”

The flavored tobacco ban does not apply to “shisha”-type tobacco smoked in hookah bars.

According to Favor, the legislation does not include criminal penalties on users but does impose civil penalties on sellers.

The ban takes effect on January 1st, 2024.

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Hannah Poling is a lead reporter at The Ohio Star and The Star News Network. Follow Hannah on Twitter @HannahPoling1. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Newport Cigarettes” by Geoffrey Gallaway. CC BY-SA 2.0.




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