COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – After months of public debate, Columbus City Council voted Monday to ban the sale of flavored tobacco products within city limits.
In a unanimous decision, the council voted to put the ban in place beginning on Jan. 1, 2024.
“The prevalence of tobacco use in our community is a public health crisis,” said city council member Shayla Favor. She said that while the process hasn’t been easy, it has been fair.
The ban will allow an exemption for onsite consumption and the sale of hookah, Favor said. It will also not penalize individual users of flavored tobacco products.
“The level of engagement around this issue from our perspective has been incredible,” said council president Shannon Hardin. “You’ve made your voices heard.”
In addition to the ban, council announced a $1 million private-public partnership for a smoking cessation education and awareness program that will give community members the tools they need to quit smoking.
While explaining his vote in favor of the ban, Hardin said he is a current menthol cigarette smoker and has been since college.
“When I think about my son and I think about the next generation of Columbus, our youth, what a dereliction of our responsibility to not do everything in this current moment to stop the next generation because we know where this leads to,” he said.
The ban, based on a proposal from Columbus Public Health, said flavored tobacco products target minority and youth populations, specifically the Black community.
“Four out of the five leading causes of death in Columbus are exacerbated by tobacco or e-cigarette use,” Columbus Public Health Commissioner Dr. Mysheika Roberts said recently.
Opponents of the ban, particularly small business owners who operate smoke shops and small grocery and convenience stores, said the removal of flavored tobacco products from their shelves will severely hurt their businesses, possibly forcing them to close permanently.
Favor said there are just over 860 tobacco licenses in Columbus.
“If we are adults, you cannot tell adults what to do and what not to do,” Ben Saleh, owner of Epic Puff, a vape and tobacco shop on North High Street, said this past weekend. “This is their lives.”
Councilmember Nick Bankston said that despite voting in favor of the ban, he wants to work with those impacted small businesses to find a way to keep them open before the ban takes effect.
Both sides of the issue reacted following the vote.
“I’m very grateful,” said Frankie Medosky, a senior at Hamilton Township High School.
“You are discriminating against every single small business that sells tobacco,” said David Schwartz.
“They do get addicted by the accessibility to vapes and menthol cigarettes, so they did the right thing for the right reasons for our young people,” said former Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, who has been at the forefront of the ban as part of a coalition to end tobacco targeting.
The proposal to ban flavored tobacco products in Columbus first gained traction this past summer, with the city council taking public comment starting in October. Since then, council has held more than 15 hours of public hearings on the proposal.