Columbus is considering putting an end to the sales of menthol cigarettes and flavored vapes. Although official legislation hasn’t been formally introduced, tobacco-control advocates who are drafting the proposal are claiming a ban would help decrease smoking rates amongst Black people, other groups of color, women, and LGBTQ populations.
Sadly, over 20,000 Ohioans lose their lives to cigarette smoking-related illnesses every year. Considering that studies have shown vaping to be 95% less harmful than smoking and that adults who used flavored vaping products were 2.3 times more likely to quit smoking cigarettes, ensuring that adult consumers in Columbus have access to the vaping products they prefer will ultimately lead to fewer cigarette smoking-related deaths in Ohio.
It’s estimated that more than 5% of Ohio’s adult population uses vaping products, accounting for over 634,000 Ohioans who have switched to a healthier alternative to combustible tobacco. Banning flavored vaping products will encourage these former smokers to switch back to smoking cigarettes, and will ultimately lead to increases in smoking-related healthcare costs, which are already costing Ohioan taxpayers $1.85 billion annually.
Advocates for the ban claim that it wouldn’t outlaw flavored vaping products or menthol cigarettes within Columbus, just the sale of said products and that consumers wouldn’t be punished for buying products elsewhere and bringing them into the city. Not only would this plan greatly harm small businesses who sell vaping products, but it would also effectively set up a dangerous illicit market within Columbus where bad actors could easily take advantage of consumers by selling them unregulated faulty products which could cause serious health concerns.
Additionally, although the flavor ban intends to help minority groups of color, the reality of setting up an illicit market is that it will further exacerbate interactions between law enforcement and consumers of these products. One of the most infamous examples of this is the tragic death of Eric Garner, who was killed by police in New York after being approached on suspicion of selling untaxed individual cigarettes.
Implementing a ban on flavored vaping products and menthol cigarettes within Columbus will have serious unintended consequences. Instead of a ban, more tobacco harm reduction efforts must first be explored such as increasing educational outreach to specific communities as well as encouraging vapes and smoke-free tobacco products as a tool for cessation.