Culture & Community

NYS Menthol Ban is racially biased and will create a Disproportionate impact against Black People

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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 in New York. 

I am also a 32-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. Our elected official’s eyes are wide shut to the consequences of good-willed legislation that has gone too far. Why would Gov. Holcol put her energy into a menthol ban that Law Enforcement organizations and representatives throughout the state advise that it is a bad idea? 

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. 

It’s almost like having political amnesia that the NYS has already made it illegal for stores to sell cigarettes to anyone under 21. 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.

Not all ideas are great. I recognize that these are well-intentioned efforts to reduce tobacco product deaths and diseases. This state law will affect Black communities more than White communities. Depending on the data 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 New York 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 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 NYS politicians legalized marijuana on the one hand and now plan to criminalize 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. 

Are our state elected officials aware that New York State has the highest inbound cigarette smuggling activity rate in the U.S., with an estimated 60 percent of cigarettes consumed in the state deriving from smuggling?

Are they also aware that 80 percent of the cigarettes sold in New York City are sold illegally, either over the counter or in the backrooms of bodegas?

Gov. Holcul’s good intention eyes are wide shut to the fact that it’s a Law Enforcement issue, examining and reinforcing the current laws instead of the government overreaching the public’s right to choose. Second, it’s a health education issue. Smoking is an addiction and must be treated as such. 

The 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 that we should treat it as such. Not by passing legislation that will criminalize only one group and not the entirety. We have been down this road before; have we not learned anything from our past mistakes?

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