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Lawmakers want to curb teen vaping through harsher punishments for businesses

Published By WCPO on September 6, 2023
Sara P. Carruthers In The News

A new bill introduced to the Ohio House would increase the penalties for businesses that sell tobacco and nicotine products to kids and teens.

Teen vaping continues to rise.

"We see those numbers going up every year, more and more kids vaping, using tobacco products," said Kelly Vyzral with the Children's Defense Fund Ohio.

Twenty percent of high schoolers in Ohio report using some kind of tobacco or vaping product, according to the CDC. More needs to be done to curb this, Vyzral added.

"When you're looking at something that's harming a child, I think you have to take a more serious look," she said.

But she’s feeling hopeful with House Bill 258, which would increase the fines for businesses accused of repeatedly selling nicotine products, like vapes, to minors.

H.B. 258, introduced by state Rep. Sara Carruthers (R-Hamilton), would make a first offense $250. As convictions increase, the fines do, too — with $1,500 for four or more violations.

"What this statute is going to do is make the fine part of the misdemeanor sentencing mandatory," Case Western Reserve University law professor Michael Benza said.

Courts may oppose this, Benza added, because misdemeanors can carry different punishments. Right now, judges are able to choose what those look like.

"A judge oftentimes in municipal court will say, 'defendant, I'm gonna give you 30 days in jail, but if you choose, you can instead spend three days standing in front of Walmart with the sandwich board saying "I stole from Walmart,"'" the professor said, referencing a 2016 case that caught national attention when a Liberty Township man chose the latter. "This statute would eliminate that because it's a mandatory fine."

The financial penalties can cause people who can’t afford the fines to spiral into debt, thus leading to additional fines and more jail time, he said. Vyzral understands, she said, but businesses haven't taken the charges seriously.

"I think people tend to take things more seriously when it affects their bottom line," she said. "We need to look at — should they be able to sell tobacco products at all if they're so careless that they are selling to children over and over and over again."

The bill will likely be heard in the coming months.

Tobacco in Ohio

Republican lawmakers go back and forth on tobacco laws, with Gov. Mike DeWine needing to repeatedly stop them.

Back in July, DeWine vetoed a provision in the state budget that would ban cities from creating their own tobacco laws. That wasn't the first time he vetoed this idea.

DeWine vetoed a bill in January that banned municipalities from regulating flavored tobacco.

“Candidly, though, we’re dealing now with young people’s lives," DeWine said at the press conference. "When a local community wants to make the decision to ban these flavors to protect their children, we should applaud those decisions.”

DeWine has said for years that he would support a total flavored vape ban.

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