Westchester County has voted to pass the Biased Menthol Ban

Last night, Westchester County Legislators voted eleven to six in favor of the menthol ban bill that will ban selling menthol flavored cigarettes and products from stores.

As I said from the beginning, not all good ideas are great. As I listened to the argument in support, I was still dumbfounded that lawmakers did everything in their power not to include advice from law enforcement agencies.

While our politicians legalized marijuana on the one hand and plan criminalized only menthol cigarettes, which are primarily used by Black people, on the other, we are only substituting one illegal substance for the other. We will feed the demand for more illegal sales that will directly affect Westchester’s Black communities and create more interactions with Black residents with police.

What is really unfortunate is that the State NAACP’s eyes are wide shut to the inequality of this legislation. In addition, when it comes to issues of Public Safety, the NAACP is not equipped to discuss these issues; historically, organizations like the NAACP have often referred to Black Law Enforcement Professionals and organizations for recommendations. 

I heard one legislator after another in support of the ban say there is no law enforcement data, even after letters from, state officials, local and national organizations and agencies said it was a bad idea. The County Legislators still refused to get testimony from the District Attorney’s Office, Westchester County Chief’s Association, or The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). Still, legislators had the unmitigated gall to pat themselves on the back as if they did due diligence in researching the facts.

Several legislators discussed that this legislation would save children from smoking. It’s almost like having political amnesia that the same legislative board has already increase the age from 18 to 21 years old June 2018, making it illegal for stores to sell cigarettes to anyone under 21.

The County Legislators also willfully ignored the fact that 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.

This is a prime example of how government overreaches to the rights of a people to have a choice. It also proves that a political agenda will get done when politicians have it in their minds to do something, regardless of the unintended consequences.

The County Legislators also had deaf ears to the hardworking small business owners and unions like the Teamsters, who pleaded with the County that banning Menthol Products would hurt their business and the threat of layoffs. Even Stevie Wonder can see that the County and the Country are going into recession, and there is already a threat of layoffs; this legislation will put the nail in the coffin of some businesses that tried to hold off laying off workers.

It was also uncommon for any governmental body to throw away tax dollars from cigarette sales, then plan for money from other budgetary lines for outreach. According to Westchester County Legislator James Nolan, by passing this Menthol Ban, Westchester County is willing to throw away $36 million in Sales Tax Revenue on menthol-flavored cigarettes. The County collects an additional $5 million on other flavored tobacco products. This is another reason why I say the County is not serious about the health and wellness of Black people. It’s just symbolism without substance.

If Westchester County is serious about Black people in Westchester’s health and wellness, they should put their money where their mouth is!

In this case, tax revenue should be allocated for health education programs, preventive smoking patches, and gums, ensuring Black and Brown communities have fresh fruits, vegetables, and clean water to drink. Let’s ensure our children’s playgrounds are safe places to play and exercise.

Can you imagine the good work we can do in Black communities with 36 million dollars a year allocated for health and wellness programs and outreach? So the County legislators instead throw 36 million away and then borrow more tax dollars for outreach programs that is working backward.

It was also clear that the legislators that lived in southern Westchester with predominately Black residents in their districts voted against the legislation while those in the predominately White districts voted for it.

As a Black man, what I heard from the discussion of the bill is that we white people know what’s better for you, Black people. I can bet many of the white legislators have never been to the southside of Mount Vernon, a city of 90 thousand people that does not have a fully functioning hospital.

Finally, what also took me back was the rashness that white legislators using Hazel Dukes, the President of the NYS NAACP’s name, like she was some Black Civil Rights God! Even one legislator, Nancy Barr, dare to say to Legislator Tyrae Woodson-Samuels that should talk to her.

I say, for what? The State NAACP has done nothing for the poor Black people in Mount Vernon. Hazel Dukes has yet to come to Mount Vernon and address the issues of poor black people that they dont have a fully functional hospital. So is she really for Black people’s health and wellness? The State NAACP has been missing in action in Westchester in the fight for civil rights. The individual chapters in Westchester are trying to do their best. But the State NAACP is a nonfactor. As a former member of the White Plains/ Greenburgh Chapter and former Co-Chair of the Public Safety Committee, I am qualified to say that.

Maybe some white legislators felt empowered to throw Hazel Duke’s name around like it meant something to Legislator Woodson-Samuels, or his generation or district; they are sadly mistaken.

I applaud the County Legislators that stood up to this microaggression legislation that will have a severe racial disparate impact on Black people. In contrast, White people in Westchester can smoke freely – and their non-menthol cigarettes can be sold with impunity – is a sign of governmental microaggression, which is unacceptable, even the disguise of saving Black people’s lives.

It will be unfortunate if the people push back against the Democratic party in future elections. Many voters already believe that the Democratic Party has consistently overreached with other legislation on the people losing the right to choose.

County Executive George Latimer must VETO this legislation. 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?