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Ohio Republicans want to ban flavored vapes, but not tobacco products preferred by Black smokers

Signs advertise cigarettes outside a gas station on Carnegie Avenue in Cleveland, Ohio. June 21, 2023
Stephanie Czekalinski
Ideastream Public Media
Tobacco companies have aggressively marketed menthol cigarettes to African Americans since at least the 1950s, according to the CDC.

Republicans in the Ohio Senate are proposing banning the sale of flavored vaping products statewide. But anti-smoking advocates say the ban leaves African American children unprotected by failing to prohibit flavored tobacco products popular with Black smokers.

The proposed ban on flavored vapes doesn’t include products like cigarillos and menthol cigarettes, which have been aggressively marketed to African Americans since at least the 1950s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2019, about 85% of Black adults who smoked, smoked menthols, CDC figures show.

If passed, the Senate budget would allow tobacco companies to keep targeting their products at Black youth, said Ivanka Hall, the executive director of the Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition.

“We're going to sponsor your jazz concerts, or we're going to sponsor your feel-good events, or we're going to sponsor rap concerts in your communities, and all at the same time using those as opportunities to pump the communities full of poison,” she said.

Hall also worries the state ban could stop Cleveland from pursuing a ban on all flavored tobacco products. That ban has been proposed at city council where it faces opposition from critics who say it hurts Cleveland businesses while failing to protect people, who can still easily access the banned products in other nearby municipalities.

The Republican-crafted Ohio Senate budget includes a ban on flavored vaping products, but anti-smoking advocates say more money is needed for programs to help smokers quit.

The incomplete statewide ban sends mixed messages to all children and teens, according to Erika Trapl, an associate professor at Case Western Reserve University's Department of Population and Quantitative Health Sciences.

My concern with the ban on flavored vapes, at least from the youth perspective, is that we're implicitly again saying those other products that we're not legislating must be safer because if they were just as dangerous, we would legislate those too to protect the public's health,” she said.

Kids who are already hooked on nicotine will likely just turn to menthol cigarettes or flavored cigarillos, she said.

The Senate budget also proposed chopping the $20 million Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine budgeted for smoking cessation programs by more than half.

That doesn't help communities struggling to rebuild their cessation programs after the state closed the Ohio Tobacco Prevention Foundation in 2008, said Trapl.

Smoking cessation programs include counseling that helps tobacco users identify triggers and manage stress. Medication can also be prescribed to help.

"The cuts... really further deteriorate the ability that our state health department has to push those funds out throughout our state to really help the most vulnerable folks who have the fewest resources [to] quit smoking," she said.

People can get help to quit smoking by calling the 24-hour Quit Line at 1-800-QUIT or by talking with their doctor, she said.

Taylor Wizner is a health reporter with Ideastream Public Media.