Menthol Bans are Racially Biased Against Latino and Black Communities
Since 1996 the National Latino Officers Association (NLOA) has advocated against issues that adversely affect our Latino and Black communities. Today we respectfully request that Westchester County legislators carefully consider the repercussions of passing BILL #2022-461 – a prohibition on flavored tobacco and menthol cigarettes. Let it be clear that WE DO NOT ENCOURAGE, SUPPORT, OR PROMOTE CIGARETTE SMOKING. On Monday, November 14, Westchester County legislators will hold a public hearing head of making their decision. As law enforcement experts, we hope legislators hear our perspective and understand that we don’t make the laws, but we do have a hand in enforcing them. We know the unintended consequences of this prohibition. Here are a few:
Menthol bans are racially biased against Latino and Black communities.
*Menthol bans disproportionally impact our communities because most menthol cigarette smokers are people of color.
*There is a racial disparity between outlawing only menthol cigarettes under the premise that it is out of concern for the health and wellness of Latino and Black people, and then exempting non-menthol cigarettes from the ban that Whites mostly consume.
There is a history of well-intentioned legislation that has negatively affected and increased the criminality rate of Latino and Black communities.
*Menthol cigarette bans are reminiscent of the 1973 Rockefeller Drug Laws. During this time, our communities suffered the greatest racial disparity with the sentencing laws of crack cocaine versus powder cocaine. While these are two forms of the same drug, mostly Latino and *Black communities used crack cocaine and received harsher sentences versus Whites who used primarily powder cocaine.
*Regarding menthol cigarette consumption, market research estimates that 48% of Latinos and 85% of Black Americans smoke menthol cigarettes. Only 30% of White Americans smoke menthol cigarettes.
The ban on menthol cigarettes will create an underground market for illegal and unregulated menthol cigarettes.
*In the supply and demand side of the illicit tobacco market, the behavior of the participants (i.e., consumers, manufacturers, and retailers) shapes and drives the illicit trade.
*New York has the highest cigarette tax rate of any state. As a result, two-thirds of the state’s cigarette market is illegal, consisting mostly of bootleg cigarettes from Native American reservations, low-tax states, and international markets (particularly from China).
*This well-established underground market can readily be an entry point to accommodate and supply the demand for menthol cigarettes.
*Illicit cigarette markets will create unnecessary interactions between Latino and Black communities and law enforcement.
*The ban will open a huge market for smugglers to offer members of our communities yet another illicit and unregulated product along with all the other illegal substances plaguing our neighborhoods daily.
*It is well-known that the street value of “loosies” is a lucrative business. The ban will only make menthol cigarettes that more valuable and hence an attractive business for organized crime and gangs to undertake.
While there are assurances that law enforcement will not criminalize Latino and Black smokers for possessing and consuming menthol cigarettes, practice dictates otherwise.
*Latino and Black communities have experienced violent and deadly consequences with other cigarette policies because of the poor execution of policing policies in communities of color.
*NLOA collaborates closely with the criminal justice community and our neighborhoods to improve relationships between law enforcement and the community. The goal is always to limit interactions between police and law-abiding citizens in communities of color.
*The more confrontational interaction we have with law enforcement in our communities, the more potential we have for something to go wrong.
On Monday, November 14, Westchester County legislators will hold a public hearing ahead of making their decision. We urge Westchester County legislators to carefully consider the negative effects of a ban on menthol cigarettes and the unintended repercussions it will cause in Latino and Black communities. The goal of this communication is to raise awareness not only among legislators but also within our communities.
Sylvia T. Miranda, MBA
Executive Director, National Latino Officers Association (NLOA)Read or leave a comment on this story...