Oxford joins 13 Ohio cities in lawsuit for home rule over tobacco

City turned to the courts after its tobacco retailer licensing program was blocked under new state law

The City of Oxford has joined up with Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus and other Ohio cities in lawsuit against the state in hopes of winning the authority to regulate tobacco sales within city limits.

The aim of the suit filed last week within the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas is to reverse a new law that bans political subdivisions from making their own policies when it comes to tobacco sales.

The law was passed in last year’s operating budget but vetoed by Gov. Mike DeWine before the Republican supermajority in the Ohio General Assembly overrode that veto, arguing that home rule on tobacco laws would lead to legal inconsistencies in Ohio, which would create headaches for businesses.

All 14 cities in the lawsuit are chartered cities, and therefore have a level of home rule under the Ohio Constitution, which they argue should give them the ability to set their own rules on tobacco sales within city limits.

In Oxford’s case, the legislature’s law blocks the city’s power to follow through on an ordinance that requires tobacco retailers obtain a $250 yearly license through the city. Oxford also set a limit of how many licenses would be permitted within city limits, capped at one license for every 1,500 residents in a city with a population just under 20,000 people.

“Being a home rule city, we feel strongly that we have to maintain this authority to exercise all powers of local self government,” Oxford City Manager Doug Elliott told this news organization.

For Columbus, like other cities in the suit, the law blocks its ability to completely ban the sale of flavored tobacco and vape products, which it hoped to pull off in order to lower the number of Ohioans — particularly young ones — who consume nicotine.

Elliott noted that the high prevalence of Ohio youth who use tobacco products — the city cites 29.8% of high school students have vaped within the past 30 days — played a major role in the city’s decision to both pass the ordinance and join in on the lawsuit.

“Also, we were concerned with the increase in the number of vape shops, and the harmful effects of vaping on folks under 21 years of age,” Elliott said.

Defendants include the State of Ohio, the Ohio Department of Health, and Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, tasked with defending the state’s laws in court, was also served.

Last week in his State of the State address, DeWine leveled with state lawmakers and said he understood the desire for a uniform legal standard in the state, and asked that lawmakers pass a blanket ban on flavored tobacco and vaping products as a way to achieve that uniformity.

“We have an obligation to protect Ohio children, and we have the ability to do that,” said DeWine.

No other cities from the Miami Valley region joined in on the lawsuit.

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Avery Kreemer can be reached at 614-981-1422, on X, via email, or you can drop him a comment/tip with the survey below.

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