The city of Columbus is currently debating on banning the retail sale of flavored tobacco and vapor products and has hosted a series of public meetings and virtual hearings to allow all sides an opportunity to present the ramifications of such bans.

While the legislation is laudable in that it attempts to address youth use of age-restricted products, it fails to recognize the significant declines in youth cigarette and e-cigarette use, nor the reasons why kids are using e-cigarettes to begin with. Further, the legislation not only ignores the potential for e-cigarettes as a direct substitute to traditional cigarettes but would severely stunt adult access to these products, likely leading to an increase in cigarette use, as seen in other states with flavor bans.

The state of Ohio conducts local and statewide youth surveys on tobacco and vapor product use, known as the Ohio Healthy Youth Environments Survey (OHYES). While 2021 data for Franklin County and where Columbus is located is not available, youth cigarette and vapor product use has declined in the county in recent years. Between 2015-16 and 2019-20, past month combustible cigarette and vapor product use declined in the county by 38.9% and 14.3%, respectively. In the 2019-20 school year, only 2.2% of the county’s youth were currently smoking and only 7.8% were currently vaping.

Lawmakers have purported that flavors in e-cigarettes are a reason for use, yet survey data from Franklin County indicate that there are other reasons that are more commonly cited as a reason for e-cigarette use. In 2019-20, of all the youth in the county that had used an e-cigarette, 52.4% cited using them because a friend had, 30.1% cited “other” as a reason for use, 26.4 % had used them because they were bored and only 15.4% reported using e-cigarettes because of flavors.

Policymakers should also be aware that the introduction of e-cigarettes to the Buckeye State has led to significant declines in smoking rates, especially among young adults aged 18 to 24 years old.

In Ohio, since 2012, when e-cigarettes became widely available on the entire marketplace, young adult smoking rates in the state have decreased by 59.3%, with average annual declines of 9.5%. Contrastingly, between 2001 and 2010, smoking rates among 18- to 24-year-olds in Ohio declined by only 27%, with average annual declines of 2.4%.

Rather than enacting prohibitionist policies that fail to consider why youth are using tobacco and vapor products, local policymakers should urge state leaders to invest more funding towards tobacco control programs, including education, cessation, and prevention. There is more than enough money from existing tobacco monies to provide adequate funding for such programs, yet year after year, Ohio spends very little on such programs.

Between 2000 and 2021, the Buckeye State collected over $22.8 billion from state cigarette excise taxes and tobacco-related settlement payments, all of which were paid for by the adults who purchased cigarettes in the state. During the same 21-year period, Ohio allocated only $500.8 million in state funding towards tobacco control. This is only 3.1% of what the state collected in cigarette taxes and only 7.4% of what it received in MSA payments. In fact, for every $1 Ohio received from cigarette taxes and MSA payments, it allocated just 2.1 cents on programs to prevent and help persons quit smoking.

Lawmakers should be wary of prohibitionist bans. Other states have seen increases in young adult smoking, as well as increased costs to enforcing the ban amid a decline in tax revenue attributed to once-legal products. Moreover, they fail to recognize the historic declines in youth tobacco and vapor product use and the potential of e-cigarettes as a substitute for combustible cigarettes. 

Read Lindsey’s full testimony to the city of Columbus HERE and watch the video below.