Columbus vows fight to keep flavored tobacco ban

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(The Center Square) – Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein is considering a lawsuit against the state of Ohio to keep flavored tobacco products off store shelves.

Klein’s announcement comes after the Republican-majority Senate voted 24-8 to override Republican Gov. Mike DeWine’s veto of a provision in the state budget that allowed local communities to restrict the sale of the products.

“The governor was right to veto legislation undermining local efforts to reduce tobacco use and long-term adverse health effects, especially among young people,” Klein said in an email statement to The Center Square. “Now that Republican lawmakers have chosen to override the governor’s veto, the city is weighing all options, which certainly includes filing a lawsuit challenging this legislative overreach.

“We must defend the Ohio Constitution’s home rule authority that’s existed for more than 100 years so that cities like Columbus can continue to do what’s best for the health and safety of residents who demand it.”

Columbus Public Health, in a statement, called the vote “unacceptable.”

The Senate’s vote came shortly after it voted to override another DeWine veto to ban gender-affirming health care for minors and create single-sex sports teams statewide. Those were the second and third times a DeWine veto had been stopped by the General Assembly in his five years in office.

The House voted to override the flavored tobacco ban in late December. The law takes effect in 90 days – most likely April 23 – unless legal challenges impact the date.

Sen. Rob McColley, R-Napolean, said removing the ability for cities to ban the products places a hardship on businesses and creates a black market.

“Anyone who operates a business in multiple jurisdictions will tell you when they have to piecemeal their business, it adds a cost to their business and adds a complexity to their business that makes it more difficult,” McColley said.

McColley also said if the Senate passes legislation with a veto-proof majority, the Senate should always consider a veto.

“To not even consider overriding that veto in some cases would be abdicating our authority,” McColley said.

The American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network condemned the Senate vote, saying local control protected children from Big Tobacco and the override removed freedom from local leaders.

“Today, the Ohio Senate followed the House’s lead and voted to override Gov. DeWine’s veto of HB33,” ACS CAN said in a statement. “HB33 will restrict communities’ authority to pass local laws regulating the sale of tobacco products. Local control over matters designed to protect the public’s health, including tobacco control laws, has numerous benefits that will be lost now that the Legislature has taken away that local power.”

Columbus adopted its flavored tobacco in December 2022 to go into effect Jan. 1, as previously reported by The Center Square.

The ban includes no penalty for people who use flavored tobacco products, including menthol, but fines could be issued for those who sell or distribute them, regardless of whether they have a license. The new ordinance also expands the city’s definition of tobacco products to include both natural and synthetic nicotine, hookahs, flavor enhancers, mouthpieces and pipes, and substances used in electronic smoking devices.

Selling these products would require a license from Columbus Public Health.

Grandview Heights and Worthington also enacted flavored tobacco bans shortly after Columbus, while Bexley banned the products in 2020.

DeWine vetoed a bill in January 2023 that stopped the ban, but lawmakers added the provision to the state budget, which passed in June. DeWine then used his line-item veto authority to veto it again in July.

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