By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Correspondent
The New York City Council’s Committee on Health has scheduled a Wednesday, Jan. 30, session to discuss a plan to ban menthol and flavored cigarettes.
It’s a move that many in the civil rights community, black law enforcement and other community activists and advocates said will lead to countless unintended consequences. Particularly, opponents of such a ban argue that it would lead to more adversarial contact between law enforcement and the African American community.
“Here we are moving forward before we do a proper assessing of the potential outcome from this type of [law],” said Major Neill Franklin, the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition – or LEAP.
The policy is especially bad in the Big Apple where “we still with stop and frisk with people of color,” said Franklin, a more than 34-year law enforcement veteran of the Maryland State Police and Baltimore Police Department.
“So, here we are proposing another policy that will put the police front and center in enforcing that policy and it’s going to be enforced in communities of color, our poor and black communities and this doesn’t make sense,” he said.
Opponents also said that a menthol ban would create criminal enterprises and would not help curb smoking, particularly when many would simply turn to either buying from smugglers or using flavored vaping products which New York City Council also seeks to prohibit.
“First and foremost, this has a disparate impact on communities of color and if allowed to go through the policy would do more to damage police relations than it would help,” said Jiles Ship, president of the North New Jersey Chapter of the National Organization of Blacks Law Enforcement Executives – or NOBLE.
“It will also be an additional drain on resources that can be better utilized and this could create a pretext for law enforcement interaction that can eventually lead to encounters that results in the arrests of individuals who would feel that their civil rights are violated – and, I’m curious as to whether that aspect has been challenged or examined,” Ship said.
Speaking to the Black Press at the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) MidWinter Training Conference last week in Orlando, Civil Rights Attorney Benjamin L. Crump said a ban on menthol cigarettes would be another “tool for law enforcement to target African Americans.”
Rev. Al Sharpton has also spoken out against a menthol ban.
The New York City proposal also drew a sharp rebuke from RAI Reynolds American this week.
“Recent news reports have highlighted that illegal contraband already outnumbers legal cigarettes sales in New York,” said Reynolds American Spokesman Michael Shannon.
“And, we believe this proposal would only make it worse by driving products deeper into a dangerous and unregulated illegal market with many unintended consequences for local communities and law enforcement,” Shannon said.
Late last year, the Food and Drug Administration announced it would seek a ban on the sale of menthol-flavored cigarettes.
The announcement came as the agency released a detailed plan to also restrict the sale of flavored electronic cigarettes.
The agency also noted that it also would seek to ban flavored cigars.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb claimed the moves are aimed at fighting smoking among young people because flavored e-cigarettes, menthol-flavored tobacco cigarettes and flavored cigars are thought as popular among teenagers.
“The proposal before the New York City Council to ban menthol cigarettes is an example of well-intention elected officials who are ignoring unintended consequences of a racially discriminatory public policy,” said Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., the president and CEO of the NNPA, a trade organization representing the 215 African American owned newspapers and media companies around the country.
“Any measure that will put African American young men or women in harm’s way with law enforcement is bad public policy,” Chavis said.