Dec 15, 2023 - News

Ohio House overrides DeWine veto on smoking restrictions

Illustration: Maura Losch/Axios

As members of Cleveland's Campaign to End Tobacco Targeting mingled at a downtown bar Wednesday evening for their holiday gathering, members of the Ohio House were voting to kneecap their efforts.

Driving the news: The House voted Wednesday to override Gov. Mike DeWine's veto of legislation that would have prevented cities from setting their own tobacco laws.

Why it matters: 35% of adults in Cleveland smoke cigarettes — more than triple the national average — and it is a leading cause of death in the city.

Catch up quick: After Columbus banned flavored tobacco products in late 2022, the statehouse sprang into action, passing preemptive legislation that prohibited cities from passing stricter tobacco laws than those of the state's.

What's next: If the Senate agrees with the House and votes to override the veto with a three-fifths majority, the General Assembly will trump DeWine, and the state will have final say on tobacco laws.

What they're saying: Dave Margolius, Cleveland's director of public health, has been leading the charge to ban flavored products locally since he was sworn into office in August 2022.

  • "Life expectancy in Cleveland is in the mid-60s, compared to the high 80s in some of the inner-ring suburbs," Margolius told the gathering Wednesday. "We know the reasons for that: structural racism leading to lead poisoning, higher traffic fatalities, gun violence, overdose deaths and Black infant mortality."
  • "But the No. 1 cause of death in our community we don't talk about enough — smoking."

By the numbers: Margolius said in the last 20 years, the national average of adults who smoke has decreased from 20% to 11%, but it has increased in Cleveland from 30% to 35%.

Between the lines: As tobacco companies lost much of their mainstream audience when TV and radio advertising became illegal, they pivoted to more vulnerable populations: young people, poor people and Black people.

  • Margolius said tobacco companies used predatory marketing at Black music events and in Black media to make menthol cigarettes the "Black cigarette."
  • Today, nearly 90% of Black people who smoke opt for menthols.

The other side: Cleveland City Council has been reluctant to consider a ban due to the financial ramifications for the more than 600 local retailers that sell flavored tobacco products.

  • Wednesday afternoon, before the House vote, a council spokesperson told Axios that it was too early to say whether the ban would be on the agenda in 2024.

Get more local stories in your inbox with Axios Cleveland.

More Cleveland stories