Westchester County is sending mixed signals when it comes to age-restricted products. After New York State legalizes adult-use marijuana, which was a smart move so it can be taxed, and you won’t surrender the market to other states or the black market. But what doesn’t make sense is Westchester County Legislators passing a flavored tobacco ban, Monday, November 28th, that will just send menthol cigarettes, mint smokeless and vape into those same black markets. Add the loss of $36 Million plus in tax revenue, without a health plan to help menthol smokers quit smoking and you have the very definition of symbolism without substance. It’s definitely time for some REAL TALK!
One of the biggest sources county legislators quoted was Dr. Hazel N. Dukes, who is President of the NAACP New York State Conference and a member of the NAACP National Board of Directors, a member of the NAACP Executive Committee and well as an active member of various NAACP board sub-committees. Dr. Dukes, county legislators and others who support the ban talk about tobacco companies targeting Black America, particularly Black youth. But Gallup “a global analytics and advice firm that helps leaders and organizations solve their most pressing problems,” tell a different story when it comes to young adults.
Gallup reports that rate has fallen from 35% to 12% in the past two decades, young adults more likely to smoke e-cigarettes, marijuana than tobacco and smoking among young adults may be shifting from tobacco to e-cigarettes.
“As the percentage of U.S. adults who smoke cigarettes has reached a new low of 11% this year, much of the decline is tied to sharply lower smoking rates among young adults. From 2001 to 2003, an average of 35% of U.S. adults between the ages of 18 and 29 said they smoked cigarettes, compared with 12% in the latest estimate.
This 23-percentage-point decline among young adults is more than double that of any other age group over that time. As a result of these changes, young adults have moved from the group most likely to smoke cigarettes to the second-least likely, with a rate higher than only the oldest Americans,” Gallup reported Monday
Gallup trends through 2012 showed that young adults were the age group most likely to smoke cigarettes. Between 2013 and 2015, their smoking rates dipped below those of 30- to 49-year-olds, and by 2018, these had also fallen behind 50- to 64-year-olds’ smoking rates.
Now, the percentage of young adults who smoke is four points above that for those 65 years and older, the age group that has consistently been least likely to smoke.
Not to mention the fact the NYS Article 13-F Section 1399-CC of the NYS Public Health Law prohibited the sale of tobacco and vapor products and smoking paraphernalia to people under the age of 21.
§ 1399-cc. Sale of tobacco products, herbal cigarettes, liquid nicotine, shisha, rolling papers or smoking paraphernalia to minors prohibited.
So even after the passing of this legislation making it illegal for stores to sell nicotine across the board isn’t making a difference and preventing minors from getting their hands on these items, what does the Westchester County Legislators think an additional ban will do? I tell you what it will do, create a bigger black market! So, the argument the legislators and their supporters are taking this action is to save our youth falls a little short. If they are really concerned about the youth, making sure the current state law in enforced in Westchester County would seem to make sense as a good place to start.
Since 2019, Gallup has measured Americans’ use of electronic cigarettes, also known as “vaping,” separately from its measure of cigarette smoking. Between 2019 and 2022, an average of 7% of U.S. adults reported smoking e-cigarettes in the past week. However, vaping is far more common among 18- to 29-year-olds, at 19%, than among older age groups, including 7% of 30- to 49-year-olds, 3% of 50- to 64-year-olds and less than 1% of those 65 and older. Given these differences, young adults are more likely to vape than to smoke cigarettes, while among older age groups, cigarette smoking prevails.
It has been Black Westchester’s position if they are truly concerned about our community why are they only target Menthol Cigarettes and not ALL CIGARETTES. They articulate that more Blacks smoke menthol cigarettes, but even their own specialist Dr. Phillip Gardiner, a Public Health activist, administrator, evaluator and researcher who is currently the Co-Chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC), a group of Black professionals dedicated to fighting the scourge of tobacco impacting African American communities, admitted it’s Nicotine that is the highly addictive chemical compound present in a tobacco plant, when he appeared on our radio show. And since all tobacco products contain nicotine, including cigarettes why are we not banning the sale of all cigarettes. I personally know several smokers who do not smoke menthol. They risk all the same risk to health including addiction. Also, what if smokers simply substitute non-mentholated cigarettes, the ban has no effect on ending smoking and increasing the health of our community.
The other problem Black Westchester and others who have spoken out against this ban, including the Grand Council of Guardians, the National Action Network, Eric Garner’s mom Gwen Carr, NYS Assemblyman Nadar Sayegh (Dist. 90), Damon K. Jones of Blacks in Law Enforcement of America (BLEA), Reverend Dr. Carl L. Washington, Jr., Mount Vernon resident and Pastor of the New Mount Zion Baptist Church in Harlem, Sylvia T. Miranda of The National Latino Officers Assoc. (NLOA), Andre Wallace Former Mayor of Mount Vernon, George Brown Vice Chair of the Mount Vernon Democratic City Committee, Jesse Van Lew co-founder of Save Mount Vernon, James Nolan Westchester County Legislator District 15 and others, is this ban has no plans to deal with the health aspect, providing counseling, patches, nicotine gum and other items or services to help individuals stop smoking.
Black Westchester is not advocating for or encouraging anyone to smoke cigarettes, but if the legislators have identified smoking as an addiction and they claim to be doing this for the better health of the Black and Brown communities of Westchester County, why doesn’t this legislation have anything in it for prevention and assisting those addicted to break the addiction. This is why I say this ban, this legislation that was passed 11-6 on Monday, November 28th is just symbolism without substance.
Black Westchester encourages County Executive to VETO this ban when it comes across his desk. We are not saying a ban of cigarettes is bad but that it falls short of accomplishing the goals the legislators claim they want to accomplish. This ban will only cause many menthol smokers to turn to smuggled (untaxed) products, which will cost the County almost $40 million in tax revenue without putting a major dent in the use of menthol cigarettes in the county. Especially in southern cities like Mount Vernon and Yonkers that boarder the Bronx and make up a majority of Blacks in Westchester.
State lawmakers understand that a reduction in the sale of legal, taxed cigarettes will reduce their cigarette-tax revenues. That is straightforward enough and why they haven’t moved to make the sale of menthol cigarette illegal and are asking the county to take a step back as well. Even the Congressional Black Caucus cannot come to a consensus, the support of such legislation is split down the middle.
Cigarettes currently face a federal tax of $1.01 per pack, and, on average, an additional $1.91 in state taxes, even more in New York State. Moreover, most states collect general sales taxes on cigarettes as well, and all states receive payments from the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA), a legal settlement between the tobacco industry and state governments that translates to about $0.75 per pack paid by the tobacco companies. States rely on this revenue when planning state budgets.
Let’s look at what would a federal ban on these mentholated products do to revenues? According to Tax Foundation research, the federal government could lose $1.9 billion in the first full year following prohibition. That’s a drop in the bucket of federal coffers. But state governments may lose a combined $4.7 billion. And again remember New York State, especially New York City have even higher taxes on cigarettes than many other states, that’s why there is such a Black Market in New York for cigarettes smuggled up from southern states like Virginia and Georgia. The Westchester ban will only increase that ban with the state and county getting even less tax revenue. Why not take some of that tax revenue and invest in education, and prevention.
In contrast to the decline in cigarette smoking among young adults, use of marijuana in this age group has increased, according to Gallup trends dating to 2013. Between 2019 and 2022, an average of 26% of young adults indicated they smoked marijuana, up from 17% between 2013 and 2015. More than twice as many young adults now say they smoke marijuana as smoke cigarettes. Marijuana smoking is also more common among young adults than vaping.
So once again I say to try to sell the public that you are doing this to limit the use of menthol among our youth is much ado about nothing.
Let’s step back, include health aid to those addicted to smoking, including the providing of counseling, patches, nicotine gum, etc and learn from hurried legislation of the pass that did not consider the unintended consequences and that’s REAL TALK!!!
Stay tuned to Black Westchester for more on the Westchester Menthol Ban. To see all our extensive coverage of the Westchester Menthol Ban, click here.