Cigarettes kill thousands of Black people every year. And data shows that among Black smokers, menthol-flavored cigarettes are preferred by Black smokers over other types of cancer sticks.
So why is there currently a debate among Black legislators and activists over whether a proposed federal ban on a deadly product that is marketed directly to Black folks is a good thing?
Politico is reporting on the rift: on one side are legislators and activists who say the deadly and disproportionate toll of smoking on Black communities can help be curbed with an immediate ban on menthols and on the other, groups–some of which receive funding from the tobacco industry itself–that draw a line between a menthol ban and the potential for unnecessary police encounters.
The latter point was spelled out in a Los Angeles Times piece this week.
Retired Deputy Police Chief Wayne Harris stood in front of Black lawmakers and clicked to a slide of George Floyd, pinned down on the pavement with Police Officer Derek Chauvin’s knee on his neck.
“I chose this picture intentionally because I want to set the tone,” he said.
But Harris hadn’t come to the luncheon to discuss police reform or Floyd’s murder.
He was there at the invitation of tobacco maker Reynolds American to urge representatives not to ban menthol cigarettes, the flavor of choice for the vast majority of Black smokers. Using the specter of Floyd’s tragic death and the social justice protests it inspired, Harris suggested that prohibiting menthol cigarettes would increase policing in Black communities and create a new layer of racism in America.
The story went on to reveal that the country’s biggest producer of menthols had paid $40,000 for lunch.
The Food and Drug Administration rolled out its plan to ban menthols, which represent a third of the $80 billion cigarette industry, yesterday.