Gov. Hochul wants NY to be third state to ban menthol cigarettes. Will she get her way?
They're the minty-tasting cigarettes, sold in green packs from brands like Newport and Marlboro. They're easier to smoke, as the typical cigarette harshness is masked − and they've long been marketed to Black Americans.
Gov. Kathy Hochul wants New York to become the third U.S. state, after Massachusetts and California, to prohibit the sale of menthol cigarettes, the latest front in the long battle by governments and advocacy groups to curb smoking and the disease and deaths it causes.
The Democratic governor's budget includes a ban on sales of all flavored tobacco products, a cause supported by the NAACP. But fellow Democrats who lead the Senate and Assembly stripped it from their own spending plans, making the menthol ban one plank in a pile of conflicts as Hochul and legislative leaders try to hash out a final budget by April 1.
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What's the thinking behind the proposed ban?
Supporters argue a ban could shrink the next generation of smokers, who often start with menthol or other flavors.
Hochul, speaking at a forum in New York City last month, lamented that "so many people are dying from menthol cigarettes," which she said were more addictive and "targeted to Black and Brown communities from the very beginning."
"They're hooking the teenagers because they're very savvy, they're very smart, these tobacco companies," she said. "They can get a lifetime customer by just grabbing you when you're 14 or 15, right? That's a lot of money in their pockets until you die gasping because of lung cancer."
Aligned against her are an unusual assortment of groups that include the tobacco industry, sheriffs, convenience-store owners and even some clergy who reportedly feel it's unfair to communities of color, in contrast to the NAACP's position.
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How did NY lawmakers react to proposed flavored tobacco ban?
Instead of banning flavored tobacco, the Senate proposed a $75 million funding hike for the state's tobacco control program, and stricter enforcement steps for New York's 2020 ban on flavored vaping products that contain nicotine, also known as e-cigarettes. The Assembly's budget suggested a $6 million boost for the tobacco control program.
"We support doing more in the e-cigarette flavors space to ensure that our previous work is carried through," Mike Murphy, a spokesman for the majority Senate Democrats, said by email. "We should remember that cigarette usage is at historical lows not because we banned them, but because we invested in public awareness."
Mike Whyland, a spokesman for the Assembly's Democratic majority, said the Assembly omitted Hochul's menthol ban because "there was not sufficient support to include it and generally we do not include policy in our budget proposal."
Both chambers backed Hochul's proposal to raise the state tax on cigarettes by $1, to $5.35 a pack, which is meant to deter smoking. That would be the state's first cigarette tax increase since 2010.
What have other states, localities done on flavored tobacco?
Massachusetts banned menthol cigarette sales in 2019 and California followed in 2020. In the absence of a statewide ban in New York, Westchester County passed one last year, but some Black community leaders argued against it and County Executive George Latimer vetoed it in December.
State and local efforts like those may be moot if the Food and Drug Administration imposes a national ban on flavored tobacco, as it is considering.
Nearly 2.4 million New Yorkers still use tobacco, according to the American Cancer Society's Cancer Action Network. More than 13,000 died from a cancer linked to smoking from 2015 to 2019, and another 46,000 on average were diagnosed with a tobacco-linked cancer each of those years, the organization said this month in a statement supporting Hochul's plans..
“For generations, Black New Yorkers and other communities of color have been uniquely targeted by the tobacco industry using flavored products and deceptive marketing," said Lorraine Braithwaite-Harte, health chairperson of the NAACP New York State Conference. "As a result, we are often more likely to be diagnosed with and die from many cancers linked to tobacco.”
Chris McKenna covers government and politics for the Journal News and USA Today Network. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on New York State Team: Menthol cigarettes: Will they stay or go in NY?