Bill preventing city bans on tobacco products awaits Ohio governor’s signature or veto

Hamilton and Middletown are 2 cities that have stronger tobacco policies than the state.

A bill that could loosen laws limiting e-cigarette and tobacco access for young people awaits Gov. Mike DeWine’s signature or veto. Knowing what’s at stake, the wait is stressful for some.

“We are kind of sitting on the edge of our seats waiting,” said Dr. Angelica Hardee, vice president of community impact for the Greater Cincinnati Heart Association.

Lawmakers wrote House Bill 513 to ease burdens on wholesale tobacco, Ohio’s fourth largest source of tax revenue. However, its fate hinges on an amendment that invites debate on freedom and health.

“The issue of home rule is very, very important,” DeWine said last week during an interview with WCPO 9 News, content partners of the Journal-News.

Cincinnati, Norwood, Hamilton and Middletown have stronger tobacco policies than the state. In 2019, one in three Ohio high school students used e-cigarettes, according to Interact for Health, a local nonprofit focused on improving community health outcomes by promoting equity. Since several jurisdictions in the area passed additional regulations on tobacco sales to protect users under 21, fewer students surveyed found easy access, according to ongoing research.

Hamilton even has a coalition aimed at reducing tobacco use among youth. The Healthy Hamilton Coalition is through Envision Partnerships and includes youth and adults.

Also, the number of tobacco retailers caught selling to underage users fell by 47% since 2021, according to highlights of the research shared by Interact for Health.

House Bill 513 would make it illegal for any local jurisdiction to have tobacco policies stricter than Ohio law.

Supporters include the Ohio Wholesale Marketers Association. The group’s executive director, Beth Wymer, told WCPO 9 News that without uniform tobacco regulation across the state, buyers will purchase more tobacco products from unregulated sellers and in neighboring states, which hurts Ohio’s tax revenue, Wymer said.

“Do we want Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Kenton, Bellefontaine, Findlay saying, ‘Listen, just like the mayor of New York did, we’re going to get rid of the Big Gulp,’” Ohio House Rep. Jon Cross of District 83 asked in session two weeks ago. “‘We’re going to get rid of the Big Gulp. No 32-ounce cokes.’ This provision talks about the tobacco side of it.”

Hardee, the Cincinnati Health Department and others believe the bill threatens to undo decades of anti-addiction work with youth.

“We knew previously that if you do not start smoking cigarettes or tobacco-related products by the age of 21 you’re more than 90% likely to never smoke tobacco in your entire life,” Hardee said.

Without tipping his hand, DeWine told WCPO 9 News last week that allowing cities home rule is important but different with tobacco because of its impact.

“Sure it’s an individual choice (to smoke),” DeWine said during the interview last week. “No one is telling you you can’t smoke. But the cost to you as a taxpayer for paying for people on Medicaid who have cancer or have other problems because of smoking is in the hundreds of hundreds of millions of dollars each year. So it costs you as a taxpayer an awful lot of money.”

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