Governor Hochul’s proposal to ban flavored tobacco in New York State is critical to saving thousands of lives – we must stop Big Tobacco from spewing smoke from continuing to destroy our young, Black and Color communities for profit.
My father, a saxophonist, looked like he could hold a note for hours, until he lost his breath to lung cancer. It was the menthol cigarettes that quickly hooked my father into a deadly cycle we’re all too familiar with and he was gone all too soon, along with 300,000 other black men who died that year for the same horrible reason.
Decades later, tobacco use remains the leading cause of preventable death in the US, with menthol tobacco sickening and killing blacks and other communities of color at an alarmingly disproportionate rate.
Even more disturbing is that tobacco use among young people has skyrocketed to the same level it was 20 years ago. Studies by CDC experts say that banning the sale of flavored tobacco products is a vital step in ending the predatory (and dangerously effective) targeting of tobacco use by youth, Blacks, and Black communities. color.
In the 1950s, menthol smokers accounted for 5% of black smokers; now, it is 85%. In New York City, 89% of black adult smokers and 68% of Latino adult smokers use menthol cigarettes.
That’s not an accident. It is a deadly social injustice.
The FDA, which proposed to ban menthol this year, says it makes cigarettes more addictive and easier to use. And Big Tobacco has always used bogus marketing tactics to lure smokers, like handing out free cigarettes to those under 21. Federal regulators banned marketing to youth in 1964, but according to the NAACP, Big Tobacco still uses “egregious” tactics. to engage black and black communities on menthol, such as discounts on menthol products in our neighborhoods and extensive advertising in our communities.
Preventing the sale of these dangerous products in New York has been a decades-long battle for advocates and families like mine, but the threat to New Yorkers has never been more urgent.
Every day we do nothing, another child loses his father to flavored tobacco; and another kid gets addicted. If the sale of menthol cigarettes ended now, over the next two years, 90,000 New Yorkers, the majority of whom are black and brown adults, would quit smoking, according to an analysis by the New York City Department of Health.
That’s why my colleagues and I in the New York Legislature and City Council are calling for an end to the sale of flavored tobacco in New York, advancing legislation at both the city and state levels.
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Don’t let Big Tobacco create a smokescreen of bogus opposition points they’ve been perfecting for decades to keep selling their deadly products. Some say the governor’s ban will unfairly lose money to small businesses that sell these products. In reality, it is not fair, nor moral (or legal) to profit from a deadly product that voters have voted to prohibit from destroying their communities.
Some have also argued that the ban will lead to disproportionately targeted policing of blacks through the criminalization of menthol cigarettes. That is completely false. The state and city ban will not involve police in enforcement, and it will never be a criminal charge to possess a flavored tobacco product, both crucial points I made sure were in place before adding my support.
As a black woman who fervently legislates for criminal justice reform, ending health care inequities, fighting racism, and uplifting the community in which I was born and raised, I could never enact a ban that is racist and hurts constituents I have represented for decades. . The real racism is allowing my neighbors and black people to continue to die from menthol at an alarming rate.
Last week, both the Assembly and the Senate did not include the flavored ban in their single-chamber budgets. But the fight is far from over. In the coming weeks, I will fight to make sure you pass my cosponsored bill to ban flavored and menthol tobacco products to protect lives.
A ban on flavored tobacco is now too late for the thousands of New Yorkers who have died each year and for the children who have lost their parents. We can’t bring them back, and I can’t bring my father back. We must ensure that his loss is not wasted by ending the death cycle of flavored tobacco products.
Enacting this ban is literally an urgent matter of life and death. We have to get these deadly products off our shelves.
Bichotte Hermelyn is Assembly Majority Leader and Chair of the Brooklyn Democratic Party.