Hamilton’s tobacco license program could be nixed: Governor to sign or veto bill

Credit: Seth Wenig

Credit: Seth Wenig

Ohio Legislative Service Commission warns HB 513 ‘may be vulnerable’ under the Ohio constitution’s Home Rule Amendment.

The city of Hamilton’s new tobacco licensing program, approved this past summer, is ready to go into effect on March 1.


In June, Hamilton City Council approved the new licensing program where all tobacco retailers, current and future, would be required to obtain a tobacco retailer license, which is $250 annually. The goal of the program is to ensure retailers are not selling tobacco products to those younger than 21.

According to the city, the program will provide proper training and enforcement of the restrictions on sales of tobacco products, and the city’s health department will complete a yearly inspection of all tobacco retailers. The department may conduct additional inspections if needed.

However, if House Bill 513 is signed by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, then that program would end before it’s even launched.

“My understanding is that (House Bill 513) would stop us from being able to enact our tobacco retail license program,” said Planning Director Liz Hayden, who said earlier this year, outside of some municipalities, there is no existing enforcement effort regarding underage sales of tobacco products since the federal minimum age to buy increased in October 2019.

House Bill 513, which passed the General Assembly this month, is designed to lessen restrictions on an industry that’s Ohio’s fourth-largest source of tax revenues. The FDA reported in November that nationally 25% of middle and high school students regularly use e-cigarettes. The bill specifically says local governments cannot regulate tobacco products or alternative nicotine products, like e-cigarettes.

(House Bill 513) may be vulnerable to a challenge under the Home Rule Amendment to the Ohio Constitution, which allows a municipal corporation to exercise all powers of local self-government and to adopt and enforce within their limits... ."

- Ohio Legislative Service Commission

Envision Partnerships helped the city with its legislative actions surrounding the tobacco licensing program, and Chief Operating Officer Kristina Latta-Landefeld said the “hardest part” of the state House Bill is “I don’t see the net positive for the community,” adding that this state bill, as it stands, is “a major rollback” on public health.

“If you talk to anyone who works in schools right now, you’ll understand that vaping specifically is a major issue, and it’s more than just a long-term public health issue,” she said, adding vaping has been “disrupting behaviors in classes” and has been “a major issue for years.”

She said there’s only so much a community or organization can do without policies that support the law that’s in place in terms of not selling to people under 21.

“If the governor signs it, it will be a major rollback for public health, our education system, for kids and a major win for big tobacco,” Latta-Landenfeld said.

In a companion piece of legislation, Hamilton City Council also enacted text amendments that would regulate where a future tobacco seller could be within the city. Tobacco retailers ― an establishment that has at least 20% of its floor area or display to selling tobacco products and/or derives 51% or more of gross sales from tobacco ― would be limited to business districts and could not be within 1,000 feet of a school, youth center or childcare facility or 500 feet of a park or library.

Hayden said it’s uncertain at this time if that zoning regulation would be impacted by House Bill 513 as it stands now, before DeWine takes action.

However, in its analysis of House Bill 513, the Ohio Legislative Service Commission did say “the bill may be vulnerable to a challenge under the Home Rule Amendment to the Ohio Constitution, which allows a municipal corporation to exercise all powers of local self-government and to adopt and enforce within their limits.”

DeWine told the Journal-News content partners WCPO 9 that “the issue of home rule is very, very important.”

DeWine didn’t tell WCPO 9 how he’d act on the bill, but said, “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.”

Latta-Landenfeld said if she tried to investigate the logic behind the bill, “I’d have a hard time finding it.”

“That’s the personal frustration,” she said. “What’s the motivation here because it doesn’t seem to be in line with Ohio’s beliefs and values, which is home rule.”

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