Right now, the California State Assembly is considering a ban on flavored tobacco products to keep kids from smoking. We can all agree that banning flavors like “cotton candy” and “bubble gum” make a lot of sense. Sweet, fruity flavors are intended to do one thing and one thing only—hook kids on tobacco. But, that’s not true with all flavors. Take menthol, for example. Kids aren’t being seduced into smoking or vaping because of the flavor menthol. They don’t even know what that word means. But, 88% of Black adults who smoke, prefer menthol flavored tobacco products. So banning that flavor doesn’t stop kids from smoking, it could turn Black smokers, law-abiding adult Californians into criminals. It’s clear that a menthol ban would unfairly target California’s Black community and should be exempted from any proposed ban.
Banning menthol is especially outrageous when you consider that the State of California recently exempted hookah bars and retailers from their flavor ban to avoid upsetting the Armenian community. Originally, the state bill aimed to curtail teen tobacco use by banning all flavored products, including hookah. However, after widespread outrage in the Armenian community and considerable pushback from a coalition of local businesses called the ‘Hookah Chamber’, the legislature granted an exemption. They successfully argued that banning hookah flavor would unfairly target a specific ethnic group, undercut a longstanding tradition and criminalize respectable, law-abiding businesses.
This exact argument can be applied to adult Black menthol smokers. Why is one racial group receiving preferential treatment over another? Why aren’t Black people receiving the same privileges as Armenians? While we all support measures to reduce vaping and smoking among young people, studies prove that menthol is not one of the flavors that “hook” kids. Moreover, anyone under the age of 21 is already banned from purchasing any tobacco products. Prohibiting menthol is a racially discriminatory public policy and will lead to racial profiling amongst other things.
We stand with members of the civil rights, faith, social justice, and law enforcement community in saying that menthol should be removed from S.B. 793 and a diverse working group must be created to answer all questions posed regarding impact.
We need to focus our attention on EDUCATION AND PREVENTION, NOT A HOOKAH EXEMPTION.