Latimer Criticized for Vetoing Bill Prohibiting Sale of Flavored Tobacco Products
By Rick Pezzullo—
Westchester County Executive George Latimer has been criticized in some circles for his decision to veto a bill approved last month by the Board of Legislators banning the retail sale and distribution of flavored tobacco products.
The legislation, which passed Nov. 28 by an 11-6 vote, was considered one of the most comprehensive in the state by banning all tobacco flavors, including menthol, mint, and wintergreen.
However, Latimer stated on Dec. 12 while the bill was “a sincere effort to expand our effort to reduce tobacco usage” by limiting sales access to the products, “unfortunately, there are a number of unintended consequences that have generated significant opposition to this bill.”
“The bill, which has stronger support in some quarters of our county, has been vigorously opposed by a significant number of local African-American groups and leaders; Middle Eastern and Arab-American leaders; representatives of union organizations, all who assert their communities who would be negatively impacted by banning these products,” Latimer stated.
“None of these communities is monolithic in their opposition, but there exists a significant percentage of objections, having been raised, that cannot be brushed aside,” he continued. “The cultural objections raised must be forthrightly addressed, and where possible, remedied.”
Latimer explained he believed there was “an opportunity” for the legislation to be revisited once the county fully implements its Tobacco Education and Enforcement Initiatives, which will be led by Deputy County Executive Ken Jenkins.
Legislator Jewel Williams Johnson (D/Greenburgh), expressed her disappointment with Latimer’s veto, as did Board of Legislators Chairperson Catherine Borgia.
“My disappointment cannot be put into words,” Johnson stated. “The county executive indicated the significant number of objections raised that cannot be brushed aside, and I counter with the tremendous advocacy in support of this ban that should not be discounted.”
“While I, and most of my colleagues, are disappointed with the county executive’s veto of the law banning flavored tobacco passed by the Board of Legislators, I am proud of the hard work of this body and public health advocates for pushing the conversation forward, and advancing the legislation further than before.”
Earlier this year, the United States Federal Drug Administration (FDA) proposed a federal ban on menthol and other flavored tobacco products. Following that announcement, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) endorsed the FDA’s proposal, citing the decades of disproportionate targeting to communities of color.
The NAACP New York State Conference joined the chorus of critics who took aim at Latimer.
“Latimer, instead of siding with public health, aligned himself with the tobacco industry, using their own misleading talking points to exploit very real concerns about over-policing in our community,” said Dr. Hazel Dukes, President of the NAACP New York State Conference. “This law would have explicitly taken the authority away from police to enforce restrictions on Menthol sales, so any suggestion otherwise is both wrong and an excuse to preserve the tobacco industry’s continued ability to profit off of the deaths of Black people.”
“Education, while important, is not going to undo decades of predatory tactics used by the tobacco industry to hook young Black people on something that will kill them,” Dukes added. “This is an embarrassment for Westchester County, and I am hopeful other jurisdictions will be smarter and put the health of their residents first.”
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids also took issue with Latimer, with Kevin O’Flaherty, Director of Advocacy for the Northeast Region, saying, “With this veto, County Executive Latimer missed a tremendous opportunity to take an important step towards protecting the health and safety of young people and communities of color in New York.”
“The urgent need for getting these dangerous products off of shelves couldn’t be clearer,” O’Flaherty said. “It’s estimated that over 260,000 kids under 18 and alive now in New York will die prematurely from tobacco use, and smoking-related illnesses are the number one cause of preventable death in the Black community. This is a public health crisis that demands our attention now, and Big Tobacco will not stop targeting kids and communities of color unless we stop them.”
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