Lifestyle

Flavor Bans Multiply, But Menthol Continues to Divide

This story additionally ran on HuffPost. This story may be republished without cost (details).

As states and communities rush to ban the sale of flavored tobacco merchandise linked to vaping, Carol McGruder races from city to city, urging officers to incorporate what she calls “the mother lode of all flavors”: menthol.

McGruder, co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, has tried for years to warn lawmakers that menthol attracts new people who smoke, particularly African Americans. Now that extra officers are keen to pay attention, she needs them to ban menthol cigarettes and cigarillos, not simply e-cigarette flavors, to scale back smoking amongst blacks.

McGruder and different tobacco management researchers are utilizing the youth vaping epidemic — and the vaping-related sicknesses sweeping the nation — as a chance to tackle menthol cigarettes, although they don’t seem to be associated to the sicknesses.

“We started to see that vaping is something that we could leverage in order to deal with this whole menthol issue,” stated Valerie Yerger, an affiliate professor of well being coverage on the University of California-San Francisco.

Menthol is a substance present in mint vegetation that creates a cooling sensation and masks tobacco taste in each e-cigarettes and cigarettes. Those properties make menthol extra interesting to first-time people who smoke and vapers, at the same time as they pose the identical well being threats as non-menthol merchandise and may be harder to quit.

Nearly nine out of 10 African American people who smoke want mentholated cigarettes, in keeping with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But at the same time as tobacco management activists see alternative, some African Americans, together with people who smoke, concern discrimination. They predict that banning menthol will result in a surge in illicit gross sales of cigarettes and lead to further policing in communities that already face rigidity with legislation enforcement.

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Joseph Paul, director of political and civic affairs at City of Refuge Los Angeles, a church with about 17,000 members in Gardena, Calif., spoke at a board of supervisors assembly in September in opposition to a proposed taste ban in Los Angeles County that was adopted per week later.

If officers really needed to finish youth vaping, he later informed California Healthline, the ordinance ought to have focused solely vape flavors and exempted grownup people who smoke and their menthol cigarettes.

“Menthol cigarettes are very popular in the black community, my people smoke menthol cigarettes,” he stated.

The Los Angeles County ban prohibits gross sales however not possession of flavored e-cigarette merchandise, menthol cigarettes and chewing tobacco within the unincorporated space of the county, inhabited by about 1 million individuals. Shops have till April to clear their cabinets of flavored tobacco merchandise.

Paul warned that folks will begin promoting menthol cigarettes illegally: “It’s supply and demand.” That will make the group extra susceptible to police harassment, he stated.

In New York City, when officers proposed a ban on menthol cigarettes earlier this yr, which has but to be acted upon, the Rev. Al Sharpton made a similar argument in opposition to the measure: Banning menthol would result in larger tensions with police in black communities.

“I think there is an Eric Garner concern here,” the civil proper rights activist told The New York Times in July, referring to the well-known case of a 43-year outdated black man who died in a chokehold in 2014 whereas being arrested by New York City police on suspicion of promoting single cigarettes.

The taste bans which might be currently sweeping the country have extra to do with e-cigarettes than menthol cigarettes.

That’s as a result of a mysterious vaping-related sickness has sickened greater than 2,050 individuals nationwide and led to at the least 39 deaths. In California, at least 150 residents have fallen in poor health and at the least three have died, in keeping with the California Department of Public Health.

Most of these sicknesses have been related to vaping hashish merchandise, and but politicians’ urge to undertake flavored tobacco bans continues.

In July 2016, Chicago grew to become the primary main U.S. metropolis to ban menthol cigarette gross sales, nevertheless it restricted the prohibition to inside 500 toes of colleges.

Of the greater than 200 communities within the nation that limit or ban the sale of flavored tobacco, fewer than 60 embody restrictions on menthol cigarettes, in keeping with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

Aspen, Colo., will ban all flavored nicotine merchandise, together with menthol cigarettes, efficient Jan. 1. A number of communities in Minnesota have already got such bans in place. In California, near 50 communities limit or ban flavored tobacco merchandise; of these, greater than 30 embody restrictions on menthol cigarettes. Notably, San Francisco banned menthol cigarettes together with all flavored tobacco merchandise in 2018, earlier than banning all vapes and e-cigarettes earlier this yr.

At the nationwide degree, the Food and Drug Administration banned the sale of flavors in flamable cigarettes in 2009, however exempted menthol. Last November, the company proposed a ban on menthol-flavored flamable cigarettes, calling their use amongst youths “especially troubling,” nevertheless it has not but taken motion.

Then the Trump administration stated in September it might quickly ban all flavored e-cigarette merchandise, nevertheless it may now be backing away from banning mint and menthol.

Menthol, which was first added to cigarettes within the 1920s, is as old-school because it will get in the case of flavored tobacco, but it hasn’t prompted motion in the way in which that vape flavors corresponding to cotton sweet and strawberry-melon have. That’s as a result of vaping was embraced by a selected inhabitants: prosperous white teenagers, Yerger stated.

Big Tobacco aggressively pushed menthol cigarettes on black youths within the 1950s and 60s, and now some individuals think about Kools and Newports a part of black tradition, McGruder stated.

McGruder and others level out that the tobacco business has supported and funded civil rights teams and causes, forming relationships with distinguished black leaders corresponding to Sharpton. Big Tobacco acknowledged that it has contributed to Sharpton’s group, the National Action Network, and comparable teams.

McGruder stated it’s tough for the African American group to contradict revered male civil rights and spiritual leaders, so once they argue that menthol bans will result in criminalization, the group listens.

But Bobby Sheffield, a pastor and vice chairman of the Riverside County Black Chamber of Commerce, stated the criminalization argument is a scare tactic.

“We’re not trying to have anyone incarcerated because they have this product in their possession,” Sheffield stated. His group, which represents native companies, began campaigning this yr for menthol bans in California’s Inland Empire, together with the cities of Riverside, San Bernardino and Perris.

Some people who smoke perceive the necessity to preserve tobacco out of the palms of youngsters, however they don’t suppose it’s honest to incorporate menthol cigarettes.

“It’s stupid. Now they’re trying to act like menthol cigarettes are the problem. These have been around for a long time,” stated April Macklin of Sacramento, who smokes Benson & Hedges menthols. She smoked when she was youthful, stop, and began once more three years in the past.

The metropolis of Sacramento will ban the sale of flavored tobacco, together with menthol cigarettes, efficient Jan. 1.

Macklin, 53, stated she would possibly simply stop as a result of she gained’t smoke something apart from menthol. But even with a ban in place, she doubts menthol cigarettes shall be gone for good. “I’m sure people will figure something out,” she stated.

This story additionally ran on HuffPost. This story may be republished without cost (details).

This KHN story first revealed on California Healthline, a service of the California Health Care Foundation.

Ana B. Ibarra: aibarra@kff.org”>aibarra@kff.org, @ab_ibarra

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