FACT VS MYTH: Electeds + NAACP Confront Big Tobacco’s Recent Lies About Ban on Deadly Products
On Tuesday, New York State NAACP President Hazel Dukes, Assembly Majority Whip Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn, health advocates and others called out Big Tobacco-funded groups for spreading misinformation about legislation which will restrict the commercial sale of flavored tobacco products, including dangerously addictive menthol cigarettes.
Big Tobacco has spent decades targeting Black and brown communities, using easier-to-smoke harder-to-quit menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products to addict people of color and hook children. As one 1974 research report from Philip Morris said, “Menthols in general do better among the very young, and among very young blacks.” And, now, as New York prepares to finally ban these products, Big Tobacco-funded front groups here are spreading misinformation to defeat the legislation, including lies that a ban will somehow criminalize the very communities civil rights leaders are trying to protect.
A Siena Poll out yesterday showed strong support for the proposed ban on flavored tobacco products, including menthol: 57% in favor versus 35% against.
“Big Tobacco targets Black and colored communities with products it knows are inherently more dangerous than regular tobacco, such as menthol cigarettes, which are easier to smoke and harder to quit,” said NYS Assembly Majority Whip Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn. “My father passed from lung cancer due to menthol cigarette smoking, just like thousands of parents that year, and decades later, the deadly cycle continues. Big Tobacco predatorially spreads lies and misinformation to keep profiting off of the death of our communities, including outrageous false claims that these common sense restrictions will lead to criminalization. New Yorkers won’t be fooled by Big Tobacco anymore. They know this ban will not be criminalized and that it will save lives—so they strongly support this legislation to remove flavored tobacco and deadly menthol cigarettes from our stores.”
“Black and brown New Yorkers have been targeted by Big Tobacco for generations with lies and dangerous products, making our rates of disease and death far higher than white smokers’,” said Dr. Hazel N. Dukes, President of the NAACP New York State Conference. “Now Big Tobacco continues to fund misinformation campaigns that confuse the facts about our important legislation to remove deadly menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products from stores. We will not let Big Tobacco win by fighting dirty by sharing the truth with New Yorkers.”
RESTRICTING FLAVORED TOBACCO IN NY: FACT VS MYTH
MYTH: Banning menthol-flavored products will increase incidences of police brutality and harassment.
FACT: The proposed legislation restricting menthol (A3907/A2441) applies to commercial sales only — not street sales, use or possession — and explicitly states that police will not enforce the ban: “No enforcement agent, police officer, peace officer or other law enforcement officer may stop, question, search or arrest any person: (a) on grounds of or in relation to possession, consumption or purchase of any product subject to this section; or (b) for the purpose of inquiring or determining how or from what person or entity the person obtained any product subject to this section.”
MYTH: Bans on menthol-flavored products are removing a choice for Black and brown smokers who prefer menthol cigarettes.
FACT: Menthol cigarettes have been aggressively marketed to Black and brown communities for generations, effectively forcing a much more addictive product on those communities. Menthol cigarettes are “preferred” because they are easier-to-smoke and harder-to-quit than regular tobacco products, making them inherently more dangerous. That is why, in New York City, 89 percent of Black adults who smoke and 68 percent of Latino adults who smoke use menthol cigarettes.
A model who appeared in Winston cigarette advertising once testified that a tobacco industry executive told him “We don’t smoke this shit. We just sell it. We reserve the right to smoke for the young, the poor, the black and the stupid.”
Big Tobacco company Brown & Williamson made a similar statement in industry documents: “Clearly the sole reason for B&W’s interest in the black and Hispanic communities is the actual and potential sales of B&W products within these communities and the profitability of these sales…this relatively small and often tightly knit [minority] community can work to B&W’s marketing advantage, if exploited properly.”
MYTH: Ending the sale of menthol products will lead to an increase in black market sales.
FACT: Big Tobacco cites the big scary black market to scare policy makers into ignoring the science, and further complicating the issue. Data and research show that a black market can be controlled by strong tax administration (e.g. use of prominent tax stamps, serial numbers, etc.), customs oversight (e.g. improving corporate auditing, better tracking systems, and good governance), and tougher penalties for major traffickers. Revenue generated by tobacco tax increases, like the one that Governor Hochul is proposing, can finance these activities.
For instance, since Massachusetts ended the sale of menthol products in 2019, illicit sales have not flourished. Both Massachusetts’ and New York’s proposed law do not and would not make individual sales illegal to purchase, use or possess.