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DeWine vetoes bill that would have stopped cities from banning flavored tobacco

DeWine vetoes bill that would have banned cities from regulating flavored tobacco
Posted at 11:04 AM, Jan 05, 2023

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio Governor Mike DeWine vetoed a bill Thursday that would have banned cities from regulating smoking, vaping and other e-cigarette usage and sales that was put forward after Columbus banned flavored tobacco products.

“This measure is not in the public interest, therefore, just a few minutes ago, I vetoed this bill, “ DeWine announced Thursday morning at a news conference.

The clouds of sour green apple vapor will slowly start to dissipate in Columbus.

"As soon as we said the word veto, we cheered," Amanda Turner, a mom and advocate against tobacco, said. "It was a very exciting, emotional moment."

Amanda Turner remembers her grandfather, a man who died when she was ten years old. He was a tobacco farmer and died from lung cancer.

"It's safe to say for a long time, most of my life, I really disliked tobacco," she said. "Today as a mother, I fear it."

As she got older, she started to focus on trying to get flavored tobacco products banned in the city.

She was successful in the winter. The ordinance impacted the sale of products, not their use. It would still be legal to smoke flavored tobacco products, but consumers would need to get it outside city limits.

"When the ordinance passed on December 12th, it was exciting, it was a joyous moment," she said. "But it felt a little clouded, to be honest because we knew the next day we were going to have to go to the Statehouse and defend the good work that just happened in Columbus, the life-saving work that just happened in Columbus."

One day after Columbus banned flavored tobacco products, saying the corporations responsible for them have targeted children and Black Americans, state representative Jon Cross (R-Kenton) added a provision to the bill to prevent any city or municipality from regulating smoking, vaping and other e-cigarette usage and sales.

Governor DeWine wasn’t a fan of this.

"When a local community wants to make the decision to ban these flavors to protect their children, we should applaud those decisions," the governor said.

Flavored products are meant to target younger users, and that is exactly what happened to OSU student Brandon Feldman.

“I think the flavor was kind of a contributing factor,” he said. “I like fruitier ones more because it's a flavor.”

He started vaping in high school after his friends introduced him to it, he said. From then, it quickly became a habit.

“Eventually you're kind of like, ‘Oh, it would be nice’ and then eventually ‘It would be nice’ turns it into, ‘Oh, I bought a vape,’” Feldman said.

He does think he is addicted — but wanted to clarify.

“It's not like I'm like, ‘Oh, I need my vape at all times,’” he said. “But it's like one of those things where I would prefer to have it on me rather than not have it.”

He doesn’t like this feeling, and calls it a “crutch.”

When it comes to the veto, the student has “mixed feelings.” He said he knows the veto makes sense, but it may be hard for him. People should know the risks since vape labels come with warnings, but he understands that DeWine and Columbus are just trying to curb the epidemic, even if it does come at the expense of his taste buds and wallet.

“I'm really going to have to, like, decide now, do I want to go out of my way and spend more money, or am I going to just stop and like, find something better to do?” he asked.

Overall, he believes it is necessary.

“I feel like it's a step in the right direction when you have a major city like Columbus, kind of be like, ‘Oh, we're not doing this anymore,’” he said. “But in order to get influential change, you need the other towns around it to follow through.”

Different municipalities will now have different rules, a complaint the governor kept hearing. DeWine had an idea of how to make the law more uniform.

“The easiest way to do that, it seems to me, is to have a statewide ban of flavored cigarettes and flavored vaping,” he said.

Why lawmakers tried to stop ordinance

"We want to sit there and say, 'Oh, don't get fat, we're going to cancel double cheeseburgers,'" Cross said during debate of the bill, seemingly imitating a local government official.

During the nearly 17-hour marathon debate session last month, the lawmaker argued this could cause cities like Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus to ban anything considered unhealthy.

"We're going to get rid of the Big Gulp," he argued, still mimicking, while lawmakers sitting behind him stifled laughter. "No 32-ounce Cokes."

Ohio Mayors Alliance Executive Director Keary McCarthy said the argument isn’t really about soda, fast food or even flavored vapes. It is about local rule.

"There has been a growing trend of provisions passed by the state Legislature that very directly conflict with home rule in Ohio," McCarthy said.

Municipal home rule allows cities and villages in Ohio to have the constitutional right to certain powers, including establishing laws in accordance to the self-government clause. If something doesn't interfere with laws in the Ohio Revised Code, cities have the right to make their own policies, Keary argued, citing Section 3.

"When the heavy hand of state government comes down from central Ohio, from Columbus, our capital city, and says, 'Oh, you can't do it this way, you have to do it this way,' it conflicts with that sacred right to home rule that is embedded in our Constitution," he added.

Lawmakers have started to strip powers away from municipalities, which can be seen with this new tobacco bill, but also with bills to prevent gun safety measures, plastic bag bans and teaching about race in school. The Ohio Municipal League has been tracking 22 bills in total this session that it believes overstep its rights, or at least are "of interest."

RELATED: Inconsistencies in Ohio's home rule authority highlighted by tobacco legislation

What’s next

Columbus will be able to move forward with their ordinance.

In a seemingly-strategic move by DeWine, the timing works out that the lawmakers are not able to override the governor’s veto.

The bill was passed in the previous General Assembly, not the one that was just sworn in on Tuesday – so the new lawmakers aren’t able to vote against him. The DeWine team told News 5 they made sure to check with their legal team to confirm.

Thursday's veto was the second of legislation passed during the last legislative session. Earlier this week, DeWine rejected HB 286, which would have allowed legal challenges for certain agency orders to occur in the county where a business or a person resides.

RELATED: DeWine signs 23 bills into law, makes first veto

Follow WEWS statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.