Black activists in New York are split on whether a menthol ban will be beneficial or harmful to the community, reports Gothamist.
One group, consisting of family members of those killed by police, including George Floyd’s brother and sister-in-law and Eric Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr. Garner was killed by police on Staten Island who were enforcing cigarette regulations.
“My son was a victim because allegedly he was selling ‘loosie’ cigarettes,” Carr said. “That’s what they’re going to do when they ban these cigarettes.”
“No more victims and no more violence,” she said, “and no ban on the menthol cigarettes.”
Another group gathered 30 minutes later and a block away supporting the ban. The group consisted of 40 clergy leaders and activists as well as Hazel Dukes, president of the NAACP New York State Conference and former president of the National NAACP.
“Our children are dying. Our kids think menthol is great. They think it’s bubblegum,” Dukes said. “Big Tobacco, you are getting out of our community.”
The proposed ban would expand current measures to include menthol-flavored products; a city council bill has been sponsored by 20 members and a state proposal from Governor Kathy Hochul is up for a vote.
According to New York public health officials, half of all adult smokers use menthol cigarettes, 86 percent of Black smokers smoke only menthol cigarettes, and 72 percent of Hispanic smokers smoke only menthol cigarettes. Black and Hispanic smokers make up a disproportionate number of smoking deaths in New York, according to state and federal data.
“Prohibition doesn’t work,” said Sylvia Miranda, executive director of the National Latino Officers Association. “The best way is through a medical model, not a criminal model.”
Supporters of the ban say it would specifically target retail sales and not personal consumption while critics fear the ban would ramp up policing in Black communities.
“Contrary to what the opposition is saying, read my lips: NYPD will not be involved,” said Council Member Rita Joseph, the main sponsor of the city council bill banning menthol-flavored tobacco products.