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Columbus, 13 other cities sue Ohio officials to enact flavored tobacco and vaping bans

A man exhales while smoking an e-cigarette.
Robert F. Bukaty

Columbus, Cincinnati, Cleveland and 11 other Ohio cities are suing the state over a law that prevents the cities from banning the sale of flavored tobacco products and e-cigarettes in city limits.

The 14 cities want the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas to halt the enforcement of the state's law banning the enforcement of the tobacco bans. Republicans in the Ohio Legislature voted to enact the law and then had to vote again to override Governor Mike DeWine's veto of the law last year.

Columbus is playing the long game with this legislation and others like it in the courts. City Attorney Zach Klein told WOSU he ultimately expects the litigation to go before the Ohio Supreme Court.

"Hopefully if we're successful, then we get a temporary pause in the law becoming effective, so that we can argue this case of why it violates the city's ability to make decisions and regulate for the health and safety of its people and make decisions for itself," Klein said.

Columbus and the other cities in the lawsuit argue primarily that the ban on flavored tobacco bans should be overturned, because it violates home rule provisions of the Ohio Constitution. The lawsuit said cities have “authority to exercise all powers of local self-government and to adopt and enforce within [their] limits such local police, sanitary and other similar regulations, as are not in conflict with general laws.”

"At the end of the day, it's just really bad public policy from the state level. So we have stepped up with a series of cities, 13 in all, to sue the state of Ohio," Klein said.

If a judge issues a temporary injunction, Klein said the city will try and make a legal argument for a permanent injunction to allow the local regulations to stay on the books.

"Like when you get into this high profile litigation that we've done with guns and other things, we know that the ultimate destination is likely going to be the Ohio Supreme Court," Klein said.

The lawsuit was filed the same day DeWine gave his State of the State address. In the speech, he called for a statewide ban on flavored vaping and tobacco products.

DeWine said banning flavored tobacco and vaping will save lives and protect children.

Both DeWine and Klein cited studies that show young children starting in junior high were first introduced to smoking through flavored tobacco.

DeWine criticized the federal government for not taking action, but it was Ohio Republicans in the Statehouse who overrode his veto that would've allowed the cities to enact their bans.

"The Biden Administration has the authority to stop the sale of flavored tobacco products including menthol cigarettes and flavored vaping products. But they have not done so. I urge them to do that. But I think we've all learned we can't depend on Washington," DeWine said.

The lawsuit also includes smaller cities like Heath, Oxford, Worthington and Gahanna.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.