June 7, 2023
Politically Speaking

Elected officials have lied to Black People in N.Y. about the Menthol Ban

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As a representative of a National Law Enforcement Organization, it is disheartening to witness instances in which political objectives take precedence above the requirement to tell the public the truth.

Black Law Enforcement, community leaders, Pastors, and even the families of Eric Gardner and George Floyed have sounded the alarm that this legislation is prejudiced towards Black people and will contribute to a disproportionate number of Black individuals being detained for possessing untaxed cigarettes. We have done this because we believe that this legislation is racially discriminatory. Will we make the same mistake again and criminalize menthol cigarettes while leaving non-menthol cigarettes alone? Once more, the politicians whom we elect are not on the side that history should have been on.

It is dishonest to say that the planned menthol prohibition in New York cannot or will not be implemented at the individual level, including against the approximately half a million adult users of menthol cigarettes in the state of New York.

Although the law punishes businesses who are found to be selling things that are prohibited, this does not imply that it cannot or will not be applied against individuals.

It is against the law in the state of New York (N.Y. Tax Law 1814) for any individual to be in possession of cigarettes that are not stamped. First-time offenders face a Class A misdemeanor charge, which can result in a monetary penalty or perhaps incarceration if they are found guilty of the offense. If this offense is committed again within a period of 5 years, it will be considered a Class E felony, which carries a sentence of up to 5 years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000.

Are we to believe that those who we elect in office, along with those who’ve been in office for more than two decades are ignorant of the laws that already exist? In addition, the legislation allows for the seizure of an individual’s vehicle if that person is in possession of more than one hundred packs of illegal cigarettes that are not stamped, which is equivalent to ten cartons.

Last but not least, according to the laws of New York, those who have been convicted of a felony lose their right to vote while they are behind bars. N.Y. Elec. Law Section 5-106.

None of these existing laws in New York will be repealed by the statute that is now being proposed. How is it even possible for our Governor or the state legislature to be so clueless about the laws that govern our state? This is a recipe for catastrophe, and it’s not even cooking yet.

Let us not forget that New York is the state that leads the nation in the production of illicit cigarettes; it is believed that 53 percent of the cigarettes that are consumed in the state are already unstamped. About eighty percent of the cigarettes sold in New York City do not have a stamp on them. Because of this, we may deduce that the high rate of excise tax in this state contributes to the existence of a robust network for the sale of illegal cigarettes.

Furthermore, this will be considerably exacerbated by the imposition of a menthol prohibition, since it would provide smugglers with an extra demand for illegal goods. More than thirty percent of the cigarettes on the market are menthol.

Under Gov. Hochul’s plan, the amount of contraband being brought into the state would only increase. We predict that if the state’s cigarette taxes were raised by one more dollar, bringing the total to $5.35 per pack, the rate of cigarette smuggling within the state would increase to roughly 61% of the market. When you include the fact that flavored cigarette products are prohibited, the prevalence of cigarette smuggling jumps to over 66 percent. If the Governor has her way, then two out of every three cigarettes smoked in the state of New York would have been brought in illegally.

Regrettably, groups such as the NAACP will continue to back discriminatory legislation, despite the fact that these laws contribute to and worsen a wide variety of issues pertaining to social justice and criminal justice.

Similar to the “stop and frisk” policy, it will undoubtedly have a disproportionately negative impact on black people (80 percent of adult smokers prefer menthol, whereas just 30 percent of white smokers do).

As was said before, it is without question that being in possession of contraband cigarettes is a criminal violation. As a consequence of this, enforcement will fall disproportionately hard on blacks and other people who live in neighborhoods of color.

Undoubtedly, such a prohibition would result in a plethora of additional, interconnected issues, including the following:

It will be known as the NEW STOP AND FRISK in the state of New York. Because it is hard to detect from a distance whether someone smokes menthol cigarettes or not, this creates a new rationale for potentially damaging confrontations with police enforcement in communities of color.

As legislators try to legalize cannabis and take a public health approach to opioids, a ban on menthol and other flavored tobacco products might restore many of the ills that were imposed as a result of the unsuccessful war on drugs. In contrast to these measures, criminalizing bill tobacco is a bad idea. We live in a society that has a criminal justice system that incarcerates black people at a rate that is nearly six times higher than the rate of incarceration of white Americans, and the prison population is made up of 67 percent black and Latinx people; any prohibition on menthol and flavored tobacco products promises continued over-criminalization and mass incarceration of people of color. In order to right the wrongs caused by previous drug policies that were unsuccessful, it is necessary to take into consideration the unintended consequences of well-intentioned laws, particularly with regard to the most vulnerable groups.

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