Gov. Mike DeWine during a press conference. (Photo by Nick Evans, OCJ.)
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine vetoed legislation Thursday that would’ve preempted local bans on flavored tobacco. He’s been telegraphing the move for weeks and spoke about the decision flanked by health officials at the Statehouse.
“This measure is not — is not in the public interest,” DeWine said of HB 513. “And therefore, just a few minutes ago, I have vetoed this bill. There is the well documented danger of tobacco products. I think we all know medical experts have been warning about the dangers of tobacco for decades.”
Because a new General Assembly has begun, DeWine’s office contends lawmakers can’t initiate a veto override.
The American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network was quick to applaud the move.
“Local control over matters designed to protect the public’s health, including tobacco control laws, has numerous benefits that would have been lost if local power had been taken away,” it stated in a press release.
House Bill 513: How we got here
The measure began as a way for tobacco wholesalers to recoup taxes after retailers fail to pay for products. Separately, in the waning days of last year’s session, Columbus passed a local ban on flavored tobacco products.
“We know for a fact,” Columbus mayor Andrew Ginther argued, “tobacco companies have been deliberately targeting the sale of their deadly products at children and Black Americans.”
A few days later, lawmakers added an amendment to HB 513 prohibiting such ordinances. The sponsor argued that without the provisions, local governments would “cancel” double cheeseburgers or ban Big Gulps.
Shortly after DeWine’s veto, the Ohio Mayor’s Alliance added their voice in support of the decision.
“It is important for local governments to utilize their constitutional home rule authority to be able to innovate and address challenges — like the concerning rise in teen use of flavored tobacco,” Executive Director Keary McCarthy said in a statement.
The balancing act
Speaking Thursday, DeWine acknowledged the merit of uniform statewide policy. After all, Republicans regularly tout the idea to justify other local preemptions or regulatory rollbacks.
“Candidly, though,” DeWine argued, “we’re dealing now with young people’s lives. And when a local community wants to make the decision to ban these flavors to protect their children, we should applaud those decisions.”
DeWine said if lawmakers want uniformity, there’s a very simple option.
“The easiest way to do that, it seems to me, is to have a statewide ban of flavored cigarettes and flavored vaping,” DeWine said.
“We will save a lot of lives,” he added. “We will save a lot of children from starting down a pathway that in 20 years, 25 years, 30 years may end up costing them their lives.”
The governor said he has spoken previously about his views with lawmakers, but he hasn’t proposed specific legislation. He wouldn’t say whether such a ban would be part of his budget proposal.
In 2019, after health officials linked some cases of severe lung disease to vaping, the governor urged the FDA to ban flavored e-cigarette products and called on Ohio lawmakers do likewise. Both fell on deaf ears.
The National Youth Tobacco Survey’s 2022 report found more than 3 million middle and high school students used a tobacco product in the previous 30 days. That works out to 16.5% of high schoolers and 4.5% of middle schoolers. The authors warn because of disruptions in gathering data due to COVID-19, comparison to prior years is difficult.
Dr. Sara Bode, a primary care pediatrician at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, explained youth tobacco use is a concern throughout Ohio. “This happens in rural communities, in urban communities, it is everywhere,” she said. And flavored tobacco, Bode argued, presents the biggest challenge for kids.
“Their number one reason for trying this and starting it has to do with the flavoring,” she explained. “For these flavors such as candy flavors, fruit flavors, menthol flavors, the way they’re marketed, they’re very enticing to young people to go ahead and start, and it makes them seem more safe.”
Bode added emerging research suggests vaping serves as a kind of on ramp to other tobacco products.
State health director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff noted Ohio’s rates of tobacco use are higher than national averages, and tobacco remains the leading preventable cause of death in the state. According to Vanderhoff, deaths attributable to tobacco use top 20,000 a year. And treating tobacco-related illness isn’t cheap. According to the Health Policy Institute of Ohio, he said, health care costs tied to cigarettes are about $6.8 billion a year.
The latest batch of signatures
DeWine also continued working through the backlog of legislation sent by the previous General Assembly. Thursday, he signed a dozen bills, including:
HB 281: Updated statutory terms related to people with disabilities or suffering from mental illness.
HB 343: Modified crime victim’s rights.
HB 501: Made a series of changes related to township authorities including allowing them to regulate small solar facilities.
HB 504: Raised penalties for disrupting religious services.
HB 509: Updated numerous occupational licensing provisions.
HB 545: Privileged peer support communications.
HB 554: Allowed state board of education to issue temporary licenses to teachers with expired certificates or licenses.
HB 558: Modified state’s donated drug repository program.
HB 567: Required common pleas courts post their docket online.
HB 569: Allowed higher ed institutions to offer scholarships to people serving as family caregivers.
HB 575: Set policy for regulating the solvency of fraternal benefit societies.
HB 578: Created new specialty license plates and memorial highway designations.
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