COLUMBUS, Ohio — Columbus City Council members are thinking about banning the sale of flavored tobacco products. If the proposal passes, Columbus would become the first city in Ohio to implement such a ban.
City Council member Shayla Favor is leading efforts to ban flavored tobacco products. The legislation would also expand the definition of tobacco products to include natural and synthetic nicotine, hookahs, mouthpieces and substances used in electronic smoking devices.
In 2019, the Ohio Youth Tobacco Survey found that nearly 13% of Ohio middle school students report having used a flavored tobacco product, breaking current Ohio law.
In a hearing held a few weeks ago, Favor shared her view that tobacco products present a public health crisis, particularly to Black and brown communities. Some have said that enforcement is the answer instead of a ban. Current Ohio law prohibits the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21.
The Columbus Board of Health proposes changes that would affect only the retailers selling flavored tobacco.
The action would change the retail license fee from $150 to $350. It would impose a $1,000 fine for the first offense, $2500 fine for the second offense, and the third offense would cause a $5,000 fine plus a loss of license for the rest of the licensing cycle and the next licensing cycle.
“It needs to be brought in line with liquor where there are consequences when you break the rules,” said Edward Johnson, the Assistant Health Commissioner for Columbus Public Health. “So this is something that could be responsive from the board of health, end of thing on things, on rules that would help us get to a better place regarding bad retailers selling to underage individuals.”
Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association (CASAA) is completely against the ban, saying that many flavored tobacco products help smokers quit cigarettes. The CEO of CASAA, Alex Clark, said it’s not the city’s call to ban something regulated on the federal level and if a ban passes, there should be exemptions.
“I don't think that the City Council is really in a position to override the diligence and thorough review that FDA is doing on these products,” said Clark. “So that exemption needs to be added at the very least to this legislation.”
Eight states and more than 300 municipalities have passed laws restricting the sale of flavored tobacco. Cincinnati and Cleveland have had organizations propose something similar, but nothing has made it to the city government level.
The Columbus City Council is holding a second public hearing on Thursday, Dec. 1, at Columbus City Hall. If the legislation passes, it would take effect 30 days after passage and approval by the mayor.
For more information on the proposal, click here.