Flavored tobacco ban wouldn't work in 'real world.' It would 'bust' businesses| Opinion

Alex T. Boehnke is the executive director of The Ohio Energy & Convenience Association and Beth Wymer is the executive director of the Ohio Wholesale Marketers Association.

Columbus City Council is considering a citywide ban on the sales of flavored tobacco products at local convenience stores, grocery stores, and tobacco shops inside the city limits.

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A sweeping ordinance that makes it more difficult for adult tobacco customers to buy their preferred tobacco and vape may seem like a good way to stop people from using these products.

But that idea simply doesn’t work in the real world.

Wherever state and local governments pass these bans, customers go to the closest community where those products continue to be sold.

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For example, industry experts studied the effects of Massachusetts' flavored tobacco sales ban in 2020. They found that sales of menthol cigarettes and flavored e-cigarettes predictably decreased in the state but nearly doubled in New Hampshire, where the products are still legally sold.

That’s what will happen in Columbus. Thousands of customers will visit one of the nearly 800 other tobacco retailers within five miles of the city limits. Thousands more will simply get their products online. Or, they may also get them illegally from the illicit market where there is no regulatory oversight, and buying tainted cigarettes and e-cigarettes is a risk.

Furthermore, this ban could displace hundreds of local jobs. A detailed study on cigarette sales in Columbus found that for every $8.33 in cigarettes purchased, buyers bought $6.87 in non-tobacco products like milk, eggs, gas, and prepared foods. Columbus retailers have $162 million in product sales at risk due to the proposed ban. These businesses will be decimated.

With cigarette smoking at an all-time low, this legislation targets a false crisis. Thanks to decades of education programs and campaigns, teen smoking has essentially been wiped out (.38% report frequent use).

Adult use of traditional, combustible cigarettes is at historic lows (12.5% in 2020). That's a significant decrease from the 1970s when youth and adult use was 37%. An analysis of data provided in the 2021 National Youth Tobacco Survey released this year shows underage menthol use has been steadily declining nationwide and is now virtually non-existent: over 99% of all youth do not smoke menthol cigarettes.

According to the CDC, the number of teens using vapes is also decreasing on both a national and state level.

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Yet anti-tobacco advocates continue trying to pressure local officials into passing unwarranted bans, using a false narrative referencing outdated data, products already banned by federal regulations, and decades-old cigarette marketing campaigns prohibited since the 1990s.


To reduce the risk of teen tobacco use further, local tobacco retailers invest in age-verification technology and employee training programs provided by the FDA and the We Card program.

Beyond their ethical obligation to protect our youth from age-restricted products, retailers know they face steep penalties for selling to minors, ranging from hefty fines to loss of license. Most retailers have children of their own and consider themselves partners in the fight to keep tobacco products out of the hands of youth.

Our view: City must spoil sinister ploy. Ban flavored vaping tobacco, menthol cigarettes.

These efforts reflect the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s strict regulations on the sale of tobacco and vapor products. Manufacturers must file detailed applications requesting authorization to sell every brand, style and flavor of their products. If the FDA denies the application, the product is deemed illegal for sale and is removed from store shelves immediately.

Columbus City Council can and should focus on ensuring it enforces these bans on outlawed products and gives local law enforcement agencies the resources and training needed to do their job effectively.

This proposed ordinance, however, won't boost public health but will only bust local businesses, increase crime, and put consumers at risk.

Alex T. Boehnke is the executive director of The Ohio Energy & Convenience Association and Beth Wymer is the executive director of the Ohio Wholesale Marketers Association.

This article originally appeared on The Columbus Dispatch: Opinion: Why shouldn't flavored tobacco, menthol cigarettes be banned