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Ohio raises legal smoking age to 21

By Andrew J. Tobias • Jul 18, 2019 at 10:44 AM

COLUMBUS — Ohioans must wait until age 21 to buy cigarettes, cigars, vape pens and other tobacco products, under a provision in the state budget bill signed Thursday morning by Gov. Mike DeWine.

The new law also applies to rolling papers, filters, blunt wrappers, liquids and other accessories involved with smoking or vaping. But the higher age won’t apply to anyone who is 18 years old or turns 18 before Oct. 1.

With the change, Ohio becomes the latest state to adapt Tobacco 21 language, joining Illinois, Virginia and Texas.

Officials estimate the change will result in a state tax loss of around $20 million a year.

The DeWine administration has called the tobacco age increase a public-health proposal. They’re particularly concerned about Juul and other e-cigarettes, saying they’ve seen a precipitous rise in teen use in the past year. However, Ohio anti-tobacco advocates, ironically, have opposed the change despite supporting the basic concept, saying it’s too tough on teens and not tough enough on retailers.

The budget also creates a new tax on vaping products assessed at 10 cents per milliliter.

As expected, state lawmakers passed the $69 billion, two-year budget Wednesday that includes tax cuts and increased spending on education, public health, and water-quality programs, and sent it to Gov. Mike DeWine for his signature. The budget was 17 days late. But better late than never — the bill passed with bipartisan support, clearing the House by a 75-17 vote and the Senate 29-1. Fifteen of 38 House Democrats voted no, while the lone Senate ‘no’ vote came from state Sen. Theresa Fedor of Toledo.

The governor’s office received the voluminous budget bill at 11:43 p.m. Wednesday, according to a DeWine spokesman. Shortly before midnight, when a temporary budget that had been funding the state government expired, reporters were told it would still be several hours before the bill was in a form DeWine could sign. We’re human and need sleep too! We’ll have news on any line-item vetoes later this morning on cleveland.com.

So close: House Bill 6, the controversial nuclear/coal subsidies bill, passed the Ohio Senate on Wednesday, and the House appeared ready to follow suit. But as cleveland.com’s Jeremy Pelzer reports, House Speaker Larry Householder fell one vote short of the 50 needed for HB6 to pass the House because some lawmakers were out of town. Another attempt at a House vote is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 1, Householder said.

The other budget bill: Lawmakers also sent to DeWine a two-year $644.6 million budget for the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. The final budget, which is funded by employer premiums, was passed without a controversial measure to allow first-responders with post-traumatic stress disorder to be eligible for workers’ compensation without having to show physical injuries, according to Laura Bischoff and Avery Kreemer of the Dayton Daily News.

In other Senate action: The upper chamber passed two additional bills on Wednesday:

Senate Bill 13, which would make Ohio human-trafficking laws for 16- and 17-year-olds the same as they are for younger victims. Right now, prosecutors need more evidence to convict traffickers in cases involving 16- and 17-year-olds. The bill now heads to the House.

House Bill 50, which seeks to ensure that Cleveland’s MetroHealth System would get the rights to discoveries and inventions made at its research facilities. The bill now goes to DeWine's desk.

Sacred text: Would you like to show your support for Capitol Letter, plus get exclusive insider information on Ohio government and politics? Consider Project Text. For $3.99 a month, you can get behind the scenes insights and observations via text messages from the reporting team who puts together our essential daily newsletter.

Hemp harvest: The Ohio General Assembly sent to Gov. Mike DeWine the bill that legalizes industrial hemp and CBD products. DeWine is reviewing the bill for signature, cleveland.com’s Laura Hancock reports.

Hemp hazards? Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost is joining a bipartisan group of 37 attorneys general in asking for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to help them ensure the safety of CBD and cannabis-derived products and study the potential risks of the plant.

High energy: Democratic control of the U.S. House of Representatives will boost the chance of passing an energy efficiency bill that Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman has been pushing for years with Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, cleveland.com’s Sabrina Eaton reports. “When we first introduced this legislation, Rob had black hair,” joked Shaheen, as she stood beside her gray-haired colleague.

Lawsuit proceeds: A Stark County Common Pleas Judge has ruled that businessman Ben Suarez, who owns Jackson Township-based Suarez Corporation Industries, can proceed with a defamation lawsuit against Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown over a campaign commercial that described him as a crooked businessman, the Akron Beacon Journal reports. The lawsuit centers around a campaign commercial focusing on Suarez’ ties to former Wadsworth GOP Rep. Jim Renacci, who ran for Senate against Brown last year.

Libra unbalanced: The U.S. House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday echoed many of the concerns their Senate counterparts expressed the previous day about Facebook’s plans to launch a new cryptocurrency called Libra. “I think you’re pretty low on the trust spectrum for very good reason,” U.S. Rep. Anthony Gonzalez, a Rocky River Republican, told the Facebook executive who testified at the hearing, as he expressed skepticism about the company’s data security plans, and its claim the currency’s overseers wouldn’t be Facebook-controlled.

Filling Jim’s shoes: The Dispatch will hire a new legislative reporter in place of Jim Siegel, who unexpectedly died last month, according to tweets from multiple Dispatch reporters.

Pension protector: Ex-U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, a Cincinnati-area Republican, is teaming up with Democratic ex-U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley to save the pensions of nearly 1.3 million retirees. As the Dispatch’s Jessica Wehrman writes, the two will lead the Retirement Security Coalition, which plans to raise awareness about the problems faced by retirees in endangered multi-employer benefit plans.

Deters challenger: Democrat Gabe Davis, a former federal prosecutor, launched his campaign Wednesday to unseat Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, a Republican. As Scott Wartman of the Cincinnati Enquirer writes, the contest between the two “will likely be one of the Cincinnati region’s most contentious and expensive political race[s] in 2020.”

Full Disclosure

Five things we learned from the May 10, 2018 financial disclosure statement of state Sen. Frank Hoagland, a Republican from Jefferson County:

1. He reported two sources of income besides his $65,584 state salary, earning $25,000 to $49,999 from U.S. Navy Retirement and $50,000 to $99,999 from S.T.A.R.T. LLC (Special Tactics and Rescue Training), a security training business of which he is a partner.

2. Hoagland, who served as a Navy SEAL, listed one investment of more than $1,000 – his U.S. military pension.

3. Besides his home, Hoagland owns property along Cool Springs Road near Mingo Junction, Ohio.

4. He was reimbursed $5,054 in mileage from the Ohio House last year. He also received at least $100 worth of food and/or drinks from the Republican Senate Campaign Committee.

5. He holds a Private Investigator Security Office license.

On The Move

Ohio Treasurer Robert Sprague is one of 24 elected officials nationwide chosen by the bipartisan Aspen Institute to participate in the two-year Rodel Fellowship in Public Leadership program.

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