Concern Clergy Of Westchester Send Letter To CE Latimer Opposing Passing Of County Menthol Cigarette Ban

The Westch­ester County Board of Leg­is­la­tors (BOL) passed a bill Mon­day, November 28th ban­ning the re­tail sale and dis­tri­b­u­tion of fla­vored to­bacco prod­ucts. That includes tobacco flavors like menthol, mint and wintergreen. Despite the warning from Black and Brown law enforcement organizations, legislators say Westchester’s ban would be enforced the county’s Department of Health, not by any other agency, especially not those responsible for criminal law enforcement. Retailers could face fines. Lawmakers say it’s one of the most comprehensive tobacco bans in New York.

Several organizations, elected officials and community leaders have opposed the ban including the Grand Council of Guardians, the National Action NetworkEric Garner’s mom Gwen CarrNYS 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, 

The New York As­so­ci­a­tion of Con­ve­nience Stores (NY­ACS), a statewide or­ga­ni­za­tion rep­re­sent­ing more than 445 small busi­nesses, is urg­ing La­timer to veto the bill, con­tend­ing it will hurt mer­chants, elim­i­nate jobs and have no mean­ing­ful health im­pact.

“Even with a ban these prod­ucts would re­main read­ily avail­able to con­sumers in nearby coun­ties and states, clearly un­der­cut­ting the pub­lic health goals of the leg­is­la­tion,” Kent So­pris, Pres­i­dent of NY­ACS stated in a No­vem­ber 29 let­ter to La­timer. “In­stead of a pro­hi­bi­tion of these prod­ucts, the gov­ern­ment should in­stead fo­cus on eq­ui­table harm re­duc­tion so­lu­tions that work, like ed­u­ca­tion, ces­sa­tion sup­port, un­der­age pre­ven­tion, and au­tho­riz­ing less harm­ful al­ter­na­tives for all adult smok­ers.”

Joining the mounting opposition to this ban is a group of clergy members throughout the county known as the Concerned Clergy of Westchester who also sent a letter to CE Latimer.

The Honorable George Latimer
Westchester County Executive
148 Martine Avenue
White Plains, New York 10601

Dear Honorable George Latimer,

We, the clergy members of Westchester County, respectfully submit this letter to address our concerns about the proposed ban on flavored tobacco products, including menthol, and how it will likely affect the community members we represent. Specifically, its direct effect and unintentional consequences that disproportionately criminalize communities of color.

Despite claims that such a ban won’t criminalize communities of color, we’ve heard from black and brown law enforcement who have told us such a guarantee is not possible. Proving that if the proposed ban, including menthol cigarettes, is adopted, it would also create increased interaction between law enforcement and Black and Brown community members.  As you understand, this is quite concerning in the African-American and Latino communities as we continue to fight for police accountability when working with Black and Brown people. 

We fully support the efforts to stop tobacco use – especially by the youth. We understand that some would argue that this point of view on banning tobacco looks like our promoting an avenue for vice. We counter by emphatically stating that we do not promote the development of any vice. We support the effort to curb smoking, but you must address civil liberty issues raised in this bill must be addressed before fundamentally denying the rights of specific communities. 

Education, not criminalization, is an effective way to deter smoking. As demonstrated by the failed “war on drugs.” Criminalizing victims battling addiction is cruel and does not work! Numerous reports show that criminalizing addiction sets a dangerous obstacle to good treatment. The more effective way to decrease smoking among youths and adults is to fund prevention and treatment programs.

Again, we in no way support the use of tobacco. However, we ask you to table the current proposal in efforts to study the impacts of the proposed ban and allow community stakeholders to include law enforcement, faith leaders, and the social justice activists the opportunity to convene a full discussion of the study results to assess the impacts on the communities we serve.  Let’s support the protection of civil rights and fundamental fairness. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.

Respectfully submitted

Concerned Clergy of Westchester County
Reverend Dr. Carl L. Washington Jr., Convention President, Mount Vernon
Reverend Dr. Edward O. Williamson, Bethel Baptist Church, White Plains
Reverend Erwin Trollinger, Calvary Baptist Church, White Plains
Reverend Alfred Dampier, Community Memorial Baptist Church, Mount Vernon
Reverend Nicholas Soto, First Baptist Church, Elmsford
Reverend James Furman, Mount Zion Christian Baptist Church, Mount Vernon
Reverend Gary Colter, Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church, Peekskill
Reverend Shaun E. Jones, Star of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Ossining
Reverend Judith Williams, Shiloh Baptist Church, Tarrytown
Reverend Willie Spencer, Corinth Baptist Church, Mount Vernon
Reverend Merle McJunkin, Antioch Baptist Church, Bedford Hills
Reverend James Perry, Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, Peekskill

The legislation passed 11-6 by the BOL, so what’s next?

This proposed law approved by the legislative branch (BOL), Monday, November 28th, now goes to the executive branch (the County Executive) to be signed. Within ten days, by Thursday, December 8th the County Executive (CE) must either signs the legislation into law or return it to the BOL with a written explanation of the reasons for the “veto.” If the CE does not act within 10 days, the proposal automatically becomes a law.

The vetoed proposal may still become a law. The BOL can vote again on the proposal and “override the veto” by a two-thirds vote in favor. If signed by CE Latimer, this local law shall take effect six months after enactment.

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.