Cleveland leads nation in smoking rate but there may be a solution

Published: Sep. 14, 2023 at 5:16 PM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - The smoking rate in the city of Cleveland is stunning.

Nearly 39% of adults in Cleveland smoke, according to research done at Case Western Reserve University’s Prevention Research Center for Healthy Neighborhoods.

Cleveland’s smoking rate leads the nation and is certainly problematic when compared to the national average of just 11%, according to the Centers for Disease Control

Cleveland’s Director of Public Health, Dr. David Margolius, says it has led to a devastating outcome.

“Tobacco is the number one leading cause of death in the city of Cleveland, so it is our number one priority,” Dr. Margolius said.

But, Dr. Margolius said he has developed a plan, actually a new proposed ordinance, that he believes would significantly reduce the smoking rate in the city and with it save lives.

The new proposal was introduced in February and is sitting in front of Cleveland City Council right now.

The new ordinance would, at its core, simply put some teeth into the current ordinance that doesn’t do enough, actually nothing, according to Dr. Margolius, from an enforcement standpoint.

The current ordinance makes it illegal to advertise tobacco products outside of the city’s central business district, but the new proposed ordinance would require a tobacco retail license that would open up the city’s convenient stores and bodegas to periodic inspections, from the health department, and the subsequent potential of fines and the loss of license for violations of the ordinance.

The new ordinance would also enforce state law that bans the sale of tobacco products to anyone under the age of 21, which would be a significant step to reducing the smoking rate in the city, Margolius believes.

19 Investigates spent a month checking the city’s convenience stores and bodega’s and the sheer volume of advertising is overwhelming, specifically, according to Dr. Charles Modlin, Metro Health’s Director of Inclusion, Diversity and Equity, the advertising of flavored tobacco products directed at young people.

“As a physician and an advocate for improving the health of the community I strongly support this legislation to ban these mentholated products,” he said.

Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb sent the following written statement to 19 News:

“My administration is solutions-driven and we have, through this proposed legislation, taken a clear step forward to addressing the number one cause of death, disease, and disability of residents in the City of Cleveland.

Research has shown that tobacco accounts for a small percentage of why customers shop at convenience stores and that these stores’ tobacco profits are much lower than their sales. We also know that smoking-related diseases prevent many Cleveland residents from being able to work and costs millions of dollars to treat.

At the end of the day, we, as a community, must look ourselves in the mirror and ask at what price do we value profits driven by tobacco over the health of our city? To me that answer is clear – the well-being of our residents must come first. We remain hopeful that City Council members will support this legislation.”

Is the new ordinance a cure all, something that would drive the smoking rate down in the city? That remains to be seen.

If it is not passed by Cleveland City Council, we may never know, but Dr. Margolius believes it is as good a place as any to start.