Judge rules Ohio law preventing cities from banning flavored tobacco is unconstitutional

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An Ohio law that prohibits cities from banning the sale of flavored tobacco products is unconstitutional, a judge has ruled.

The state is expected to appeal Friday’s ruling by Franklin County Common Pleas Court Judge Mark Serrott, who in April issued a temporary restraining order preventing the law from taking effect. The measure became law in January after the Republican Legislature overrode Republican Gov. Mike DeWine’s veto of a budget measure that put regulatory powers in the hands of the state.

The ruling stemmed from a lawsuit filed by more than a dozen cities, including Columbus and Cincinnati, and Serrott’s decision means their bans remain in effect. However, the ruling only applies to those cities and is not a statewide order.

The measure, which was vetoed in 2022 before reappearing in the state budget, said regulating tobacco and alternative nicotine products should be a matter for the state, not municipalities. It also prevented communities from voting to restrict things like flavored e-cigarettes and the sale of flavored vaping products.

Lawmakers approved the 2022 legislation days after Ohio’s capital, Columbus, lifted a ban on the sale of flavored tobacco and menthol tobacco products that would have taken effect early this year.

Anti-tobacco advocates, the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network and DeWine himself, have harshly criticized the override as a victory for the tobacco industry, saying it enables addiction in children because tobacco and vaping products made with fruit or candy flavors become more popular and accessible to people. children.

Opponents of the measure had argued in part that it violates Ohio’s home rule provision, which allows local governments to create their own ordinances as long as they don’t interfere with the state’s revised code. Serrott agreed, arguing that the law was only intended to prevent cities from exercising their own government.

At the time of the override vote, Senate President Matt Huffman said lawmakers had carefully discussed the language with the Legislative Service Commission, a nonpartisan body that drafts bills for the General Assembly, and did not believe it would affect any potential tobacco restrictions that local governments might have. passage.

Supporters of the measure are touting it as a way to maintain uniformity in tobacco laws and eliminate confusion for Ohioans. They argue that the state should be in control rather than communities because restrictions on products would affect state revenues as a whole.

DeWine has maintained that the best way to ensure uniformity in these laws would be a statewide ban on flavored tobacco.