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Flinging rocks at Goliath

Tobacco (269709)

California passed a ban on flavored tobacco in 2020, but it never took effect because tobacco companies filed a referendum to block the ban.

After spending tens of millions of dollars getting their referendum on the November ballot, Big Tobacco is gearing up to spend millions more to overturn the state’s bipartisan and overwhelmingly popular law that protects children from candy-flavored e-cigarettes, including minty-menthol cigarettes, and cheap sweet cigars.

According to statistics, 85 percent of youth e-cigarette users report having used a flavored product in the past month.

The tobacco industry is rallying across the nation to maintain the status quo. Using the specter of George Floyd’s tragic death, which was initiated at the purchase of cigarette singles, tobacco company spokespersons have suggested that prohibiting menthol cigarettes would increase policing in Black communities and create a new layer of racism in America.

Detractors take a different stand, noting that Menthol cigarettes pose a public health threat, by making it easier to start and harder to quit smoking. African-Americans smoke menthol cigarettes at high rates and quit smoking at lower rates, and African-American men have high death rates from lung cancer.

Dr. Lynn Silver, a senior advisor with health advocacy organization Public Health Institute, says local jurisdictions have had to take the anti-menthol issue on themselves. More than 100 California cities and counties have passed flavored tobacco bans, according to the Tobacco Free Kids campaign.

“The strategy that’s worked for tobacco control is a combination of raising public awareness about why it’s important and how deadly tobacco is, and supporting and funding community health organizations and others … from smaller cities to the state and federal government … to advance these policies,” she said.

Advocates also point to targeted marketing of menthol cigarettes to African-Americans as a reason to ban all flavored tobacco products.

In January, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors voted to ban flavored tobacco sales — including menthol. The African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATLC) played an active role in this advocacy campaign.

Beginning in July all candy-flavored e-cigarettes, hookah tobacco, menthol cigarettes, and sweet little cigars will be banned in unincorporated areas of the county.

The city of Sacramento enacted a similar ban two years ago, and Elk Grove did the same last year. Other cities within the county would have to create their own laws against flavored tobacco.

On Jan. 21, San Leandro joined the wave of other cities in banning the sale of menthol cigarettes. Theirs takes effect in January 2023.

On Jan. 27, AATCLC Co-Founder Carol McGruder joined US Senator Alex Padilla, Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, Board of Equalization Member Malia Cohen and public health advocates to launch a historic campaign against Big Tobacco, calling on Californians to protect kids from the candy-flavored products tobacco companies use to lure them into a lifetime of addiction and create life-long customers.

A coalition led by the American Heart Association; American Lung Association; American Cancer Society-Cancer Action Network; AATCLCl; Parents Against Vaping e-Cigarettes; and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is urging a YES vote on the 2022 ballot.

They profess that for generations, the tobacco industry has been preying on Black Americans, who now die of heart disease, lung cancer, stroke, and other tobacco-related diseases at rates far higher than Whites.

In collaboration with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed data from the The 2021 National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS). Among all race and ethnicity groups, non-Hispanic Black students reported the highest prevalence of current combustible tobacco product use (5.2 percent), and specifically cigar use (3.1 percent).

“Youth use of tobacco products is unsafe in any form – combustible, smokeless, or electronic,” said Karen Hacker, M.D., M.P.H., director of CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. “This report provides critical insights needed to combat this serious public health concern and help protect our nation’s youth from the harmful effects of tobacco.”

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