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Columbus City Council passes ban on flavored tobacco products for 2024

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After three small business town hall hearings, two city council public hearings, and one session dedicated to teens, Columbus City Council Monday night unanimously approved a ban on sale of menthol and other flavored tobacco products.

Public Health director Dr. Mysheika Roberts says that while the health risks associated with smoking are well known, it's less known that flavored tobacco products purposfully target certain groups.

"Flavored products target black and brown and youth. It preys upon our vulnerable neighrs, and hooks them, makes them addicted to a dangerous product, to create lifelong customers. When you remove flavored tobacco, you remove the very products that make it easier to begin a lifelong addiction to nicotine."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that by masking the taste, flavored tobacco products are more addictive than plain. For decades tobacco companies have targeted Black communities with advertising for menthol products, and 9 out 10 black adults who smoke, smoke menthol or other flavored tobacco products. Likewise, manufacturers of e-cigarettes and vape cigarettes have targeted youth through advertising, and candy-like flavors. roberts calls the ban a matter of health equity.

Council members heard from numerous small business owners who argued that flavored tobacco products are legal and popular. And that banning them will only promote illegal, unregulated sales on the streets. But council member Nick Bankston, chair of the small business committee, says profits are are only part of the picture.

"There are larger economic impacts, larger moral impacts, that we see everyday. The cost of health care - we saw the numbers in our hearings - billions of dollars that it's costing us in our state. We see that it is an epidemic in our schools."

The legislation goes into effect January 1st 2024. There is an exemption for hookah bars, because council determined they use flavored tobacco as part of a cultural practice, and the risk of addiction is lower.

Council president Shannon Hardin - himself a menthol cigarette smoker - admits the legislation is imperfect, and that breaking the habit is hard. Before Monday's meeting, Hardin and council member Shayla Favors announced the city is kicking in $1 million to a new, communuty tobacco cessation effort.

A native of Chicago, naturalized citizen of Cincinnati and resident of Columbus, Alison attended Earlham College and the Ohio State University. She has equal passion for Midwest history, hockey and Slavic poetry.