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Cleveland City Council to consider ban on sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes

Officials say Cleveland has the highest smoking rate in the nation at 35%, well above the national average of 12%.

CLEVELAND — Legislation is set to be introduced at Monday's Cleveland City Council meeting calling for a ban on the sale of menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products in the city.

According to Cleveland Public Health Director Dr. David Margolius, the proposal comes amid some shocking statistics. Cleveland has the highest smoking rate in the nation at 35%, well above the national average of 12%.

"Our number one priority is the health of Clevelanders," Margolius told 3News in an interview. "Most smokers, in Cleveland specifically, want to quit. There's research showing that across the country and right here in Cleveland. It's really hard to quit when cigarettes, and especially flavored products, are in your face all the time."

Recent data shows the impact of flavored products on teens. The 2021 National Youth Tobacco Survey revealed more than two million U.S. middle and high school students reported current e-cigarette use. Almost 40% of that group used e-cigarettes on a frequent basis and almost 85% of e-cigarette users reported using flavored products.

"In cities, states, and countries that have restricted flavored products, the smoking rate has declined 20 to 25%," Margolius explained. "If that were to happen in Cleveland, we would save thousands of lives."

Specifically, a ban on the sale of menthol cigarettes could have a major impact on Cleveland's Black population. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notes that a ban on menthol cigarettes would save the lives of 92,000 to 238,000 African Americans nationwide. 

The legislation would take effect 180 days after being signed into law by Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb. It would call for businesses to obtain an annual "tobacco retail license" and be subject to inspections, particularly to ensure no sales to anyone under 21. Businesses that violate the regulations would face fines and a suspension of its license. 

"The tobacco retail license will let us enforce the rules around tobacco 21, so that cigarettes aren't sold to minors and it will help us enforce our rule which is a point of sale restriction on flavored tobacco products," added Margolius.

A similar measure was passed by Columbus City Council last December and will take effect on January 1, 2024. Also in December, both chambers of the Ohio General Assembly approved a bill to prevent cities from prohibiting the sale of flavored tobacco products, but the legislation was vetoed by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine.

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