Local governments stripped of power to limit tobacco, e-cigarettes

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 31, 2024

DeWine had vetoed bill; Overridden by lawmakers

COLUMBUS (AP) — Local governments in Ohio can no longer regulate tobacco in their communities after the Republican Legislature overrode on Jan. 24 GOP Gov. Mike DeWine’s veto of a budget measure that puts regulation instead in the hands of the state.

The measure, vetoed in 2022 before reappearing in the state budget, says regulating tobacco and alternative nicotine products should be up to the state, not municipalities. It also prevents communities from voting to restrict things like flavored e-cigarettes and sales of flavored vaping products.

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The new law will take effect in roughly 90 days, though it’s not yet clear how that could affect local governments that have any stricter tobacco rules in place.

Lawmakers passed the 2022 legislation days after Ohio’s capital city, Columbus, cleared its bans on the sale of flavored tobacco and menthol tobacco products, which would have been enacted in early 2024. Toledo and Beckley have similar bans.

Anti-tobacco advocates, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and DeWine himself harshly criticized the override as a win for the tobacco industry, saying it enables addiction in children as tobacco and vaping products made with fruit or candy flavors becomes more popular and accessible to kids.

Opponents of the measure also say it violates Ohio’s home rule provision, which allows local governments to create their own ordinances as long as they do not interfere with the state’s revised code.

Those against the measure have also expressed fear that it will wipe out other local tobacco restrictions entirely. Leo Almeida, government relations director for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, told The Associated Press that, as written, the law is too broad.

“Taking local control away from the people who are trying to improve public health is a big mistake,” Almeida said.

Senate President Matt Huffman said Wednesday that legislators have carefully reviewed the language with the Legislative Service Commission, a nonpartisan agency that drafts bills for the General Assembly, and don’t believe it impacts all possible tobacco restrictions local governments could pass.

Proponents of the measure tout it as a way to maintain uniformity for tobacco laws and eliminate confusion for Ohioans. They argue the state should have control rather than communities because restrictions on the products would affect state income as a whole.

DeWine has maintained that the best way to ensure uniformity in these laws would be a statewide ban on flavored tobacco.

At least two states, California and Massachusetts, have passed statewide bans on selling all flavored tobacco products.