COLUMBUS, Ohio — Business owners met with Columbus City Council Wednesday evening to discuss the future of vaping in the city. Council discussed a potential ban on flavored tobacco, which would include flavored vape and menthol products.
The city council is proposing a ban on flavored tobacco, which would include flavored vape and menthol products. The idea came from a Columbus Public Health study, which indicated minority communities are being targeted by tobacco shops.
According to the study, there were 160,000 smokers across Columbus and about 100,000 of those smokers were Black. The study found that nearly 60,000 black central Ohioans are using menthol and mint-flavored products.
At Wednesday's meeting, most of the dozens who attended spoke out against the proposed ban on flavored vaper products or flavored tobacco products, but Kristin Dixon says she’s all for it.
“I am telling you today I had to confiscate vapes, and I am telling you I teach middle school,” said Dixon, who teaches for Columbus City Schools.
Dixon said she confiscated seven vapes on Wednesday alone.
“Most of them say they are able to just go right to the corner store and grab them and it’s the flavoring that attracts them,” she said.
Shayla Favor, who is leading this conversation, said racism is a public health crisis and the fact that minority central Ohioans are becoming addicted to tobacco products is concerning.
“We help people quit smoking every day, we still have people coming in wanting to quit smoking. That’s what this is designed for. That’s what it’s intended for. It’s a harm reduction tool,” said Favor.
When asked why the city was considering a ban on flavored tobacco specifically, Favor said it's a public health crisis according to recent studies and legislators couldn't ignore it.
"This is the right time for us to have this, this conversation. Because we know that on a federal level, this is already being explored. Now, it's just it's going to be a matter of time of when it's going to be instituted across the country," Favor said. “In some regard, this is starting to get business owners prepared for what could be coming down the national pipeline.”
Of those who spoke out against the ban is Sarah Rutland, who owns Top Notch Vapor.
She says flavored vaping products changed her life. Rutland says they helped her quit smoking cigarettes after almost 20 years.
“If the ban goes into effect, it’s not just empty storefronts, it’s not just employees without a job, it’s going to impact people like me who decided that smoking was going to kill me,” Rutland said.
Dr. Avira Wada from OhioHealth said no matter who’s using the product, it poses the same risk factors as normal cigarettes, e-cigarettes, vaping and other products.
“I think just because something is flavored doesn't necessarily make it more benign or safer,” Dr. Avira said.
He stresses the tobacco products cause the same harmful diseases like cancer, heart disease, lung disease COPD and emphysema. He says their focus is on prevention, and stopping users early on.
Meanwhile, some residents argue the customer should be allowed to make their own decisions rather the folks at City Hall.
"I think for the most part, most people who use flavored tobacco products are consenting adults that should be able to have whatever vice they want,” says Columbus resident Jack Bennett.
Councilmembers asked each speaker questions, hoping to help them decide if they should move forward with a ban in the city.
“It’s not just like the seven of us deciding to just have this conversation, this is an intentional effort brought by the Coalition for Tobacco-Free Kids and having these important conversations with not just Columbus, but our surrounding partners as well,” Favor said.
The next step of the process is a formal public hearing next week. 10TV asked council the earliest a vote on this could happen and was told by a spokesperson that wouldn't happen until the end of the year at the earliest.
The next public meeting on the proposed ban is Nov. 9.