By The Associated Press
Cincinnati Enquirer. October 1, 2023.
Editorial: Ohio teens would stop vaping if tobacco were the only flavor. Ban flavored vapes.
Flavored tobacco products, if not outright banned, should absolutely not be sold to minors in Ohio. State legislators must protect our youth by aggressively going after companies targeting them with flavored e-cigarettes, more commonly known as vapes, and imposing stiffer penalties on businesses who sell these products to kids.
Teen vaping has become an epidemic, and the numbers are staggering. More than 1 in 3 Ohio high schoolers have tried vaping, according to a 2021 survey backed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And nearly 1 in 5 students currently vape – statistics that line up with national survey results.
An Enquirer investigation found the issue is widespread in local schools, where hundreds of kids − some in elementary school, even − were caught last school year vaping nicotine and cannabis products. Vaping has become a huge distraction for schools, one officials know they can’t discipline their way out of.
Even more troubling, the Enquirer’s investigation found 177 Greater Cincinnati tobacco retailers within a 1-mile radius of a middle or high school have been cited by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for selling vapes and other tobacco products to minors. That is stunningly 59% of all stores cited in the region.
Ohio lawmakers, vape stores must do more
It’s clear that state lawmakers need to put more teeth in Ohio law to discourage retailers from selling flavored tobacco products to minors. We support state Rep. Sara Carruthers’ recently introduced bill that would increase fines ($250 for a first offense up to $1,500 for a fifth offense) and label repeat offenders “public nuisances,” which would make them eligible for closure. This seems to be the lowest hanging fruit to crack down on the “bad apples” responsible for selling to kids.
But it doesn’t address the problems with enforcement now – mainly that it’s driven by sting operations by state and federal agencies. Cincinnati, Norwood and other communities have put tobacco retailer licensing programs in place that allows for better tracking and enforcement of retailers. This could be done on the state level, too.
The most effective remedy, however, is to ban flavored tobacco products, including menthol. Eighty-five percent of teens who vape use flavored products, and a recent OSU study found 71% of youth age 14-21 would quit vaping if tobacco was the only flavor available. A federal ban on flavored vape cartridges enacted under former President Donald Trump hasn’t kept them out of the market. That ban exempted flavored liquid nicotine and menthol- and tobacco-flavored products.
If Republicans want to protect kids, act on vaping, not drag queens
Gov. Mike DeWine almost had a deal in place for a ban on flavors in exchange for a ban on local communities writing their own tobacco regulations. But the deal drafted into the Senate’s May budget fell apart in June because Republicans disagreed on whether to ban menthol-flavored products, and DeWine refused to concede. And with good reason. It’s long been known that menthol is more harmful because it masks the harshness of inhaling tobacco by cooling the throat, making it easier for novice users to inhale.
Simply put, a flavor ban would save lives and could potentially stop thousands of area youth from ever vaping in the first place. The Enquirer’s series chronicles how harmful vaping can be to young people’s health. While vaping is still too new to fully forecast its long-term health effects, developing research points to lung disease, high blood pressure, headaches, mood disorders and other health risks for youth. But stories like that of the Sunberg family illustrate how vaping can destroy a young person’s dreams and derail their life.
Some Republicans’ arguments that outlawing flavors smacks of “nanny state” politics rings hollow. You can’t claim that you want to protect Ohio children by banning drag shows and critical race theory, while refusing to act on a scientifically proven health threat in vaping.
We’re not insensitive to adults who are trying to wean themselves off cigarettes and also like the flavored vapes. And we also understand the position of tobacco retailers that already play by the rules, selling only to adults, and could be negatively impacted by a flavor ban. That’s why we encourage the governor and state lawmakers to work with responsible tobacco retailers on details of a compromise that would protect our kids, while maintaining the free market.
We’d much rather see the legislature come up with a statewide solution, rather than a patchwork of tobacco regulations that vary from city to city. Columbus will ban the sale of all flavored tobacco products starting in January 2024. Cincinnati, Dayton and Cleveland are considering similar regulations. And if the General Assembly fails to act, these cities should.
So long as these flavored tobacco products are available and easily accessible, teenagers will continue to consume them. Now is the time to protect our children from an unhealthy habit that could have detrimental effects on their lives.
Toledo Blade. September 26, 2023.
Editorial: Bidding law flaw
The safeguards in Ohio law that protect public funds against bid rigging and contract steering have giant loopholes that leave billions of taxpayer dollars vulnerable.
State legislators should fix this glaring problem as an urgent priority. The State Teachers Retirement System of Ohio, recipient of $3,634,475,000 in taxpayer money in 2022, recently won a ruling that its health care insurance contract is exempt from Ohio bidding laws.
Humana sued STRS and won a temporary restraining order keeping STRS from awarding the contract for beneficiary health care. Humana charged STRS was acting outside the Ohio Revised Code, but STRS easily won a summary judgement dismissing the case as a nonissue because the law doesn’t cover the retirement systems.
Specifically, because the beneficiaries of the health-care insurance are retirees, not state employees, the contract was outside Ohio law on procurement. The five Ohio public pensions took in $9.5 billion in 2022 and whether it came from employees or employers, state taxpayers were the original source of funds.
The same procurement loophole exists for Ohio’s Medicaid program. Toledo-based Paramount Health, the ProMedica subsidiary whose financial spiral began with they lost a piece of a $22 billion Medicaid contract, never had a chance in their lawsuit over bidding irregularities because 3 million impoverished citizens, not the state, received the insurance coverage.
Thus, Ohio was able to select firms that it had recently sued for fraud in the Medicaid program without need to defend the decision as a violation of state procurement law. Ohio’s current budget allocates $71 billion to Medicaid. Leaving that much money unprotected by Ohio purchasing law, in a state of endemic corruption, is an invitation to graft. It is an insult to taxpayers that pencil and paper purchases in schools and local governments are regulated much closer than billions of dollars spent on insurance.
Both STRS and the Ohio Police & Fire Pension Fund want state lawmakers to approve a large increase in the amount school systems and local governments pay into the funds. But before legislators force taxpayers to cough up more money to bail out pensions, they should make them follow Ohio bidding law and protect the money they already get.
At the same time, the STRS Board and all the other pension system boards should weigh in with oversight requirements that force an affirmative vote on financially significant contracts. STRS hired Buck Consultants to help evaluate the health insurance bids and the consultants scored Humana at 4.9 out of 5 and Aetna at 3.2 out of 5.
Youngstown Vindicator. October 1, 2023.
Editorial: Put public notices where they will be seen the most
New mandates buried deep in the 6,198-page state budget bill passed June 30 by Ohio legislators will remove some requirements that local government post official notice of public projects and business in the newspaper of record.
The move is just the latest assault by Ohio legislators in its ongoing barrage against government openness and transparency.
It comes in the form of new law that (took) effect Tuesday, softening rules that previously required municipalities to publish in the newspaper details of the publicás business. Until now, Ohio law ensured local government was conducting business in the open by requiring newspaper publication of things like legal notices, public projects being bid, public property up for sale and many other items which the public has an absolute right to know.
The time-tested notification process created to provide citizens with official notice now will be replaced with options that include allowing local municipalities to publish their notices on only municipal websites, or worse, on social media.
Without guarantee of transparency, it only stands to reason that it can become very convenient for government officials to steer particular bidders to their websites for project information that then can swiftly be removed. After all, there would be less likelihood for competing bidders to see the notice — unless they make time-consuming daily visits to each and every municipalityás website in search of projects up for bid, rather than reviewing a compilation of all bid notices in one open location, the newspaper.
From our vantage point, the new law serves only to further handicap residents’ ability to keep track of government projects and for bidders to openly and fairly compete on projects, which is the full intent of bidding laws.
The language in House Bill 33, the state budget bill, provides three options for municipalities to publicize their legal notices beginning Tuesday: a) publish a print advertisement in a newspaper of general circulation with an accompanying ad on publicnoticesohio.com; b) publish a stand-alone digital advertisement on publicnoticesohio.com, a site populated through automated feeds from the classified ad systems used by all newspapers of general circulation and legal journals in Ohio. Or c) publish a digital notice on the municipality’s own website or its social media accounts. Exactly which social media platform is not spelled out.
According to Monica Nieporte, President and Executive Director of the Ohio News Media Association, or ONMA, the organization never was consulted about functionality or capabilities of www.publicnoticesohio.com.
In fact, there is no “self-serve” portal on the website to allow anyone to place a stand-alone digital ad there. To accomplish such a “self-serve” portal, the site must be reconfigured and additional staff hired by ONMA to manage such usage. Additionally, the Legislature restricted the scope of fees that may be collected by the site’s operator. Therefore, considerable technological and financial hurdles exist to “Option B.”
Further, when published in the newspaper of record, the publication generally provides an affidavit as proof of publication, to ensure proof for both the municipality and the constituency that the advertisement was properly posted according to Ohio law. There is no such evidence of proper notification if a municipality merely places the notices on its website. It also is unclear where on their websites and for how long these notices must be posted.
Listing these types of items on government websites that receive far fewer visitors is, unquestionably, far less effective, and frankly, opaque.
Legal notices placed in the newspaper of record are in the place that citizens are accustomed to finding such information. In most cases, the local newspaper and its website will have a larger daily audience than the municipality’s website or social media account; and, if the ad runs in a newspaper, it automatically becomes part of www.publicnoticesohio.com with a searchable statewide archive of public notices.
We strongly urge our readers, along with contractors who generally bid on municipal projects, to contact your elected municipal officials to let them know that you prefer for these notices to appear in your newspaper as they always have.
Moving these public notices out of high traffic areas to municipal websites or social media pages sends us a message that elected officials will follow the letter of the law, but not the spirit of the law, by limiting transparency.
The government has the obligation to give notice to its citizens. The citizens should not be burdened with routinely searching numerous websites and social media accounts just in case a notice has been posted.