South Bay leaders push for federal action on menthol cigarette ban, say it's an 'equity issue'

Lauren Martinez Image
Friday, March 29, 2024
South Bay leaders urge federal action on menthol cigarette ban
Bay Area leaders say federal action on a menthol cigarette ban is needed as the Black community has been disproportionately targeted.

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- The decision on whether to ban menthol cigarettes nationwide is still up in the air.

Studies show the menthol market has targeted Black communities.

Menthol cigarettes are banned in California, but local leaders say federal action on a ban is needed.

Rhonda McClinton-Brown, Deputy Director of Strategy Planning Policy with the Santa Clara County Public Health Department says every day matters.

"Every day that we continue to have deprotonate targeting of menthol products is a day we lose lives and our Black lives matter."

McClinton-Brown says for decades, the Black community has been disproportionately targeted.

"My father was a smoker in his young life," she said. "He got through college partially by getting a scholarship from the tobacco industry to distribute cigarettes to his college friends in the 50's and he realized he needed to stop smoking after he had children."

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Despite the passage of Prop 31, an ATF director says California's flavored tobacco 'black market' is alive and well due to a loophole.

McClinton-Brown said as a result, the ratio of Black smokers is higher than other racial groups.

"The percentage of smokers from the Black community is twice as high as other populations," McClinton-Brown said.

In October, the FDA proposed rules to the White House to ban the manufacturing and sale of menthol cigarettes.

The Biden Administration then delayed a final ruling of the ban from December to March.

Now it's almost April and the ruling is still undecided.

"I think this is an equity issue," McClinton-Brown said. "I think this is an issue we want justice and we want fairness."

Some studies show under a menthol ban, overall smoking would be projected to decline by 35.7% in 2026.

It could save 654,000 lives over the next 40 years.

VIDEO: Menthol cigarette ban proposal could further lower smoking rates

The FDA's proposal to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars is being applauded by advocates and doctors, who believe the step could help continue a trend of decreased smoking rates.

That translates to more than 200,000 premature deaths averted in the Black community.

Reverend Jethroe Moore II, President of NAACP San Jose/Silicon Valley, says they want to keep the ban in front of the legislators' minds.

"We have enough things floating in the air that we don't need menthol cigarettes so we can take down those bans - and most low income communities you see two things, liquor stores and tobacco adds- everywhere," Reverend Moore said. "So we can pull those adds down and tell our people to live without menthol cigarettes, 'try living free of menthol.'"

The opposing argument says a ban goes beyond public health.

Some civil rights groups worry about unintended consequences like unfair policing.

"Knowing that it's going into an election year - I would think that President Biden and his staff are waging in bets to try to secure more votes at the cost of lives," Reverend Moore said.

Reverend Moore said menthol is the most addictive kind of tobacco out there.

He hopes other counties take note of taking care of the health needs in the black and brown communities.

"Our county has done an excellent job and I commend them and honored to work alongside of them to continue to ban menthol products," Reverend Moore said.

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