As a health and wellness coach, and someone who has written two books on the subject, this article is not supporting anyone who chooses to smoke cigarettes. My main concern is the racial disparity of outlawing only menthol cigarettes under the narrative of concern for the health and wellness of Black People.
I am also a 33-year Law Enforcement Professional. I am constantly reminded of the history of good-willed legislation that negatively affects and increases the criminality rate in Black communities. Over the past few years, our local, county, state, and federal elected officials’ eyes are wide shut to the consequences of good-willed legislation that has gone too far.
First, we must understand that smoking in the U.S. has dropped to an all-time low. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that only 1 in 8 adults were current smokers. Youth smoking is also reported at an all-time low of 3.3 percent. The county legislators are looking to submit a bill to ban all menthol cigarette sales in Westchester.
Not all ideas are great. I recognize that these are well-intentioned efforts to reduce tobacco products’ deaths and diseases. This county law will affect Black communities more than White communities. Depending on the date used, it is estimated that 74% to 95% of Black Americans smoke menthol cigarettes and only 22% to 36% of White American smoke menthol cigarettes.
As someone who has authored two books on health and wellness, I fully understand the need to address the dangers of smoking that are also written on every box of cigarettes. However, to pass legislation that will have a severe racial disparate impact on Black people while White people in Westchester can smoke freely with impunity is something I cannot accept.
These types of legislation remind me of the past racial disparity between the crack cocaine and powder cocaine sentencing laws. Crack and powder cocaine are two forms of the same drug; unfortunately, crack cocaine was used in the Black communities; black people received harsher and longer sentences than those who used powder cocaine, who were primarily White.
In later years this legislation was found to be racially biased and contributed to a disproportionate number of Black people being sentenced for crack cocaine offenses. Are we willing to repeat history by criminalizing menthol cigarettes and not non-menthol? I would rather be on the right side of history.
While our politicians legalized marijuana on the one hand and criminalized only menthol cigarettes on the other, we are only substituting one black market for the other that will directly affect the Black community and create more interactions with Black residents with police. This legislation will also create setbacks in police reform to which Westchester Couty and its 43 municipalities have been at turtle speed slow to advance any meaningful police reform policies or Civilian Complaint Review Boards.
The county will also lose approximately 1.6 million dollars in tax revenue. If Westchester County is really about our health, why not use that tax revenue for health education programs, making sure Black and Brown communities have fresh fruits, vegetables, and clean water to drink? Let’s ensure our children’s playgrounds are safe places to play and exercise. These are the issues in the Black communities of Westchester that need direct attention now! 1.6 million can help in these causes.
A road to health and wellness starts with education, changing people’s mindset on food and exercise habits, and recognizing that cigarette smoking is an addiction and we should treat it as such. Not by passing legislation that will criminalize only one group and not the entirety. We have been that this road before, have we not not learned anything from our passed mistakes?