DeWine, who has long advocated for policies to prevent children from using tobacco, said the new steps are designed to turn the tide of youth vaping.
“We have to balance things here and simply say we can’t give up on a whole generation of young people and have them become addicted. And the reason they’re becoming addicted is because these companies are really good at what they do — give them a lot of nicotine and give it to them in flavors,” he said. “We see no other pathway but to ban the flavors.”
Legislation to prohibit the sale of flavored liquid nicotine is pending in the Ohio Senate.
The Ohio Vapor Trade Association’s members argue their industry is under attack: a new state tax takes effect Oct. 1; a new state law bumping the tobacco and vaping purchase age to 21 starts Oct. 17; and DeWine is pushing for a ban sales of flavored liquid nicotine, which make up the bulk of vape shop sales.
Roughly 250 supporters of vaping rights rallied at the Ohio Statehouse on Tuesday, wearing T-shirts that said ‘I vape, I vote’ and carrying signs that said ‘Prohibition Doesn’t Work’ and ‘Mango is Not a Crime.’ They argued against flavor bans, saying they would drive people back to smoking more-harmful cigarettes.
Vaping supporters rally at the Ohio statehouse on Tuesday. Photo by Laura Bischoff
James Jarvis, president of the Ohio Vapor Trade Association, said, “It’s an adult product, made by adults, to solve an adult issue.” He said a flavor ban would shut down about 600 stores and noted that 80 percent of adults who vape use flavors.
Steve Looper owns Jo Jo Vapes stores in Troy and Sidney with his wife, Anita Looper. “Banning flavors is not going to solve any problem that they perceive,” Steve Looper said.
“We have 80-year-old (customers) that come in and they don’t get tobacco flavors,” Anita Looper said. “It’s just very disappointing that it’s come to this.”
Meanwhile, public health officials are investigating the spread of vaping-related lung illnesses that have sickened at least 805 people, from 46 states and one U.S. territory. Thirteen deaths have been reported, from 10 states. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Friday most people who got sick vaped THC, the ingredient that produces a high in marijuana.
In Ohio, 22 cases have been reported and 19 others are under investigation as of Tuesday. Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton said Ohio is now mandating reporting of suspected cases to state officials.
Vaping is not harmless. The Ohio Department of Health reports that nicotine is highly addictive and can harm brain development, which continues until about age 25. Also, e-cigarette aerosols may contain substances that can be harmful if inhaled.
The number of Ohio teens who smoke cigarettes has declined dramatically over the last 20 years, and public health officials are worried that the rise in vaping is undoing their hard work. Nationally, last year there was a 48 percent rise in vaping among middle-schoolers and a 78 percent increase in vaping among high-schoolers.
The federal Food and Drug Administration data show 3.62 million U.S. middle and high school students are using e-cigarettes, including 27.5 percent of high school students in 2019, up from 21 percent in 2018 and 11.7 percent in 2017.
Beginning Oct. 17, a new state law takes effect to boost the purchase age to 21 for tobacco and vaping products across Ohio.
Joy Thomas of Columbus, who said she has used vaping to wean off a two-pack-a-day cigarette habit, said the answer to curbing youth vaping is to enforce the laws on the books — not punishing adults who vape flavored e-cigarettes instead of smoking tobacco. “I’ll fight tooth and nail before I ever touch another cigarette,” she said.