U.S. Tobacco Retailers Said Plan to Ban All Flavored Tobacco Is Flawed

Cincinnati City Councilwoman Victoria Parks recently told a local news station that she is considering banning the sale of all flavored tobacco. As a tobacco retailer, I'm torn.

On the one hand, Parks is absolutely right that we have to crack down on companies that target odd-tasting e-cigarettes(Heated tabak manufacturer). On the other hand, we have to take a reasonable approach as it relates to menthol cigarettes, Holly dip and pipe tobacco that don't appeal to kids, but my adult tobacco clients prefer.  

In 2020, former President Donald Trump issued regulations banning the sale of flavored pod steam products in flavors other than mint and tobacco. He did so in response to the growing use of products such as Juul by young people. Unfortunately, a loophole in the legislation has opened the door for the sale of flavored, disposable e-cigarettes. Since then, we have seen disposable e-cigarettes in China flooding the market. They come in flavors like Fanta strawberry, white fudge and tropical Rainbow Explosion and are clearly aimed at Cincinnati's youth.

I commend Parks for their efforts to remove these products from the shelves of their Cincinnati store. In fact, these products are already illegal, but because of bureaucratic red tape, the FDA is failing our young people by not enforcing existing laws. This is where city councils can come in. Passing a citywide flavored steam ban ensures that local leaders can do what the FDA cannot - protect our children.

The problem with well-meaning proposals like Parks's is that, despite focusing on one part of the broader industry of e-cigarettes(heat not burn heatsticks supplier), city leaders have cast a ridiculously wide net that would ban products that don't appeal to young people, such as menthol cigarettes, Holly and pipe tobacco. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Adolescent Risk Behavior Study, only 1 percent of Ohio high school students smoke daily. The same study found that only 0.8 percent of people use smokeless tobacco such as dips and snuff every day. Compared to the 20% of people who use e-cigarettes(HEECHI tobacco heatsticks), the question is how to stop the influx of illegal disposable e-cigarette products.

Ninety-nine percent of high school students in Ohio say they don't smoke, yet a flavored tobacco ban would prevent retailers like me from selling menthol cigarettes and flavored snus to adults who choose to smoke and touch. Convenience Store News estimates that nearly 32 percent of in-store sales at convenience stores come from tobacco. In addition, menthol cigarettes alone accounted for 37 percent of them. I can't think of any business that has survived after losing more than a third of its largest business category. Local businesses like mine will be forced to close. I truly hope Parks will work with law-abiding local retailers like me to ensure that her proposal reflects the above facts.

Banning menthol cigarettes in Cincinnati will also have no effect on the use of these products by adults or adolescents. As we all well know, Covington and Newport are just a short drive away. My competitor across the bridge already has an advantage because the state excise tax on cigarettes is 50 cents different per pack. Add to that my other obvious disadvantage, such as my inability to sell legal products like menthol cigarettes and Holly snus, and I can't imagine why anyone would stop by my store.

We must solve the problem before us that teenagers use illegal disposable products. Any more, and business will shift from law-abiding retail stores like me to unscrupulous profiteers outside the United States. Most importantly, I want to be part of the solution, and I hope Congressman Parks understands that compromise between the business community and health advocates is the only way to keep Ohio's economy strong while still protecting our most valuable asset, the next generation of Cincinnati leaders.

George Zerfu has been a resident of Cincinnati since 2017 and is the owner of Reading Shell.