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Black Law Enforcement Send Letter To Gov Hochol Over Concerns Proposed Ban of Flavored Tobacco Products Will Lead to Serious Negative Interactions with Law Enforcement

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Gov. Hochul, 

My name is Lieutenant Charles Wilson (Ret.) and I am the Immediate Past Chairman of  The National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers, Inc, (NABLEO). NABLEO, a  registered 501(c)(3) non-profit, is a premier national organization representing the interests and  concerns of African American, Latino and other criminal justice practitioners of color serving in  law enforcement, corrections, and investigative agencies throughout the United States, and the  communities in which they serve, to include ten (10) organizational chapters within the State of  New York. 

Having served as a sworn law enforcement officer for more than forty-five years, I write at this  time to express a deep and serious concern and opposition to the proposed menthol-flavored  cigarette ban currently under consideration by your administration, which may only be viewed  

as a mephitic approach to issues as they relate to youthful use of e-cigarettes and vaping, while  prohibiting the sale of menthol cigarettes as well as cigarettes with more than trace amounts of  nicotine. 

While there is little doubt that your considerations may be well intended, there must also be no  doubt that prohibitions such as those being considered will not only disproportionately impact  people and communities of color, but will also trigger criminal penalties, prioritizing  criminalization over public health and harm reduction, and lead to increased instances of  unconstitutional policing and other negative interactions with local law enforcement. These  proposed prohibitions would, in fact, be antithetical to healthy, robust and productive relationships between law enforcement and those they are sworn to protect as these new  regulations would presumably provide law enforcement officers with the authority, indeed the  responsibility, to stop, interrogate and arrest persons on suspicion of selling or merely being in  possession of untaxed cigarettes. 

These prohibitions would do no more than add to the multitude of reasons used by law  enforcement officers for pretextual, investigative encounters with members of the public,  particularly in communities of color, and have already been evidenced to have drastic and  damning effects on the interactions of law enforcement with members of the communities we,  as law enforcement officers, serve.

enforcement that began with pretextual stops focused on tobacco: Michael Brown, who in 2014 was  shot and killed by a Ferguson, MO police officer after being suspected of stealing a box of cigarillos;  Eric Garner, who in the same year died of a police chokehold because of illegally selling “loosie”  cigarettes; the beating and arrest by police of a Black youth in Rancho Cordova, CA for the mere  possession of a Swisher Sweet cigar; George Floyd, who in 2020, was killed by a Minneapolis, MN  police officer after being suspected of using a fake $20 bill to purchase tobacco products; and most  recently, the actions of Ocean City, MD police in their encounter with four Black teenagers  who were vaping. 

Imposing a ban provides police officers a newly found reason to now attempt to interrogate people  on the street. They will now presumably be allowed to question whether people are in possession of  contraband items, where they obtained them, require proof of their identity, and ultimately use  force to detain those who do not comply with their directives. And yet, no one in the public health  community has reached out to law enforcement subject matter experts for their input. Our public  health advocates have chosen to ignore the daily incidents of police brutality in communities of  color and have labeled our concerns “fear-mongering” when it comes to the predictable unintended  consequences of police encounters because of tobacco and vaping bans and prohibitions”. Thus, it is  short-sighted and dangerous to view tobacco and vaping policies from only a health perspective  given pervasive negative interactions between police and people of color in the U.S.  

As well, these regulatory efforts appear not to have considered the obvious detrimental impact on  communities of color, where the preferred cigarette is menthol, and approximately 80% of all  African Americans who do smoke prefer to smoke menthol cigarettes. They as well seem to have  totally disregarded the strong recommendations of the 2009 Federal Tobacco Control Act in  reaching out to subject matter experts when developing the actual language of their legislation. To  date, there has been no known input from law enforcement experts, and specifically none from  members of any of the nearly thirty organizations representing African American and Latino criminal  justice practitioners in the Northern United States who are infinitely aware of the devastating  impact of adverse law enforcement interaction in communities of color. And when you engage in  bans and prohibitions, you automatically insert law enforcement into the intervention strategy.  

It must be fully understood that a menthol cigarette ban would disproportionately impact  communities of color, result in criminalization of the market, and provide law enforcement yet  another opportunity to conduct the pretextual interactions which have ultimately resulted in the  deaths of more than one hundred men and women of color throughout the nation. It is well noted  that cigarette consumption is the lowest today in a generation. Underage cigarette use is down to  2.3% from 13% in 2002, and for adults it is down to 17.5% from 25.2% in 2002. Underage cigarette  use among African American youths is also down to 1.1%, and for Latino kids 1.7%. 

While it is recognized that there must be support for the continuing efforts of various harm  reduction policies that support community education, cessation, well-funded health care for  communities of color, enforcement of the national minimum age of 21, and other measures that  push tobacco use down without putting criminal justice reform at risk, I must also vehemently  object to proposals such as those now under consideration, as they will only provide more  opportunities for police to engage citizens on the street based on pretext or conduct that has no  true basis in public safety. They will do no more than cause a greater racially disparate impact of the  criminal legal system, thus threatening true progress on criminal justice reforms.

I strongly urge you to reconsider any and all proposed legislation on this issue and the obvious  unintended consequences it will have on a community that is now, again, being adversely targeted. 


Lieut. Charles P. Wilson (Ret.) 

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