Friday, November 06, 2009

NYC Council Bans "All" Flavored Tobacco Products; Well... Not Exactly... Exempt are the Products Which are Actually Used by Thousands of New Yorkers

In a move described as intended to protect youths from the enticement to use tobacco products due to their flavorings, the New York City Council has enacted an ordinance which bans the sale of flavored tobacco products in the City.

According to an article in the Staten Island Advance: "The City Council voted overwhelmingly today to ban sales of all flavored tobacco products."

Well .... not exactly.

The ordinance exempts menthol cigarettes. It also exempts mint- and wintergreen-flavored or clove cigarettes.

According to an article in the New York Daily News: "Michele Bonan, regional director of advocacy for the American Cancer Society, one of the groups pushing the ban, said flavored tobacco is "Big Tobacco's version of training wheels" to attract young smokers."

The Council Speaker was quoted in the same article as stating that the ban was needed "to protect the children of New York City."

The Rest of the Story

This is an example of political cowardice, institutional racism, public deception, and what I would call sleazy politicking.

Political cowardice

This law represents political cowardice because these health groups and policy makers do not have the courage to actually promote or enact a policy that would actually accomplish what they state is the intended purpose. If the intent is to protect kids, then protect kids. Don't say that you're protecting kids from flavored cigarettes but then exempt the single most popular cigarette flavor among kids.

The products which are being affected by this ban are almost entirely products that are used by adults. Chocolate, watermelon, lemon, cherry, strawberry, and banana-flavored cigarettes are not popular among kids. In fact, not a single such product produced by Big Tobacco is even on the market. But the leading brands of cigarettes that are smoked by African American kids in New York City are all flavored cigarettes - flavored with menthol, which is exempt from the ban.

Institutional Racism

Given the large African American population in New York City, this bill actually reeks of institutional racism. How can you get up in front of the African American population in New York and tell them that we have just taken an action to protect the kids of New York City, but fail to take any action on the one cigarette flavoring that is most responsible for the addiction of African American children in the City. Are you saying that we are going to protect white kids from tobacco addiction, but we're not interested in protecting black kids?

Public Deception

By suggesting that non-menthol, flavored cigars are Big Tobacco's training wheels to attract smokers, the American Cancer Society is making a statement that is unsupported by any evidence. The true "training wheels" to attract smokers are products that go by the names of Marlboro, Camel, and Newport. These brands account for a solid 85 to 90 percent of the "training wheels" that Big Tobacco uses successfully to recruit new smokers.

The overwhelming majority of youth smokers begin to smoke not by trying cigars or cigarillos and then eventually switching to cigarettes, but by trying something known as a cigarette. The American Cancer Society is completely off base in suggesting that it is the banned flavored tobacco products that have anything to do with the youth smoking problem. In fact, it is the exempt products that are the ones addicting youths. The American Cancer Society is completely off base and I think it owes an apology to its constituents and the public.

Sleazy Politicking

This is an example of sleazy politicking because it represents an attempt by politicians to make it look like they are doing something to address the problem of youth smoking when in fact they are doing absolutely nothing of the sort. The so-called ban on tobacco flavorings is going to have no effect whatsoever on youth smoking because practically no youths use the brands that are being taken off the market due to this policy.

The policy is pure window-dressing. It allows politicians as well as health groups in New York City to make it look like they are accomplishing something to protect children without actually having to do anything. And they are specifically avoiding the difficult move which would actually make a difference: getting rid of the menthol cigarettes which are addicting more than 75% of African American youth smokers in the City.

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