Flavored tobacco products, particularly menthol, has become a hot button topic in the state of California. What started as a campaign to deter youth from e-cigarettes, commonly known as vaping, it has evolved into a full-blown attack on adults right to choose what products they have access to smoke.
State legislators are attempting to pass Senate Bill 793 which seeks to prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco and menthol products. The lone black legislator attached to the bill is Chris Holden who represents Pasadena and is generally out of touch of what is going on South of the 10 freeway.
Michael JT Fisher, who is the pastor at Greater Zion Church in the city of Compton, convened a panel with community leaders, elected officials and faith-based members of the clergy.
Pastor KW Tullos, is the president of the Baptist Ministers Conference, and a staunch supporter of decriminalization that negatively impacts people of color, primarily African-Americans.
“The faith community would never promote smoking,” said Tullos. “But a bill prohibiting and possibly criminalizing our community is a bill that we can’t support.”
Tullos spoke eloquently about educating the community on the dangers of smoking and the unintended consequences a menthol ban poses to African-Americans. Pointing to the murder of Eric Garner, over his selling loose cigarettes on a New York street corner, as one example.
“Statistics show 45,000 people die from menthol cigarettes while 450,000 die from smoking, so why are only menthol products being targeted?” asked Tullos.
That sentiment was echoed by a community member.
“Either ban all cigarettes or none at all,” said Denise Houston.
City of Carson Councilman Jawane Hilton, who is also a local pastor, discussed the menthol ban implemented in Carson and the outrage that ensured after council passed their version of a menthol ban.
Carson constituents are concerned the city council is trying to “control” them.
“We rolled the ban back because we had a number of people reach out against the ban,” said Hilton. “There are a few consequences that we (the council) need to rethink and look at.”
Hilton emphasized that he too is against children smoking and direct marketing towards the youth.
Compton Councilwoman Michelle Chambers echoed Tullos’ sentiment that criminalization is not the best route to take.
“Compton is a minority city and this ban will have a great impact on my constituents,” said Chambers. “We need to look at how our system purposely tries to put things in place to keep us incriminated and incarcerated.”
What is the true leading killer of our Black youth? Gun violence.
“Homicide through use of a gun is the leading cause of death for Black youth,” said LaToya Brown. “If SB 793 was designed to protect our youth then you would target the leading issue in the community!”
Pastor William Smart, President and CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which began under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
SCLC is a civil rights movement and seeks to abolish the disparities in how residents across the nation are discriminated against.
“You cannot deny African-American’s cigarettes while not denying Whites their right to smoke,” declared Smart. “How was hookah excluded, when in essence that exclusion is also a form of racism?”
Proponents of SB 793 is consultant Edward Sanders, of ES Advisors Group Public Affairs, is working with a coalition to implement the ban on flavored tobacco and menthol cigarettes.
Sanders cited what he called the three leading killers of the African-American community: tobacco use is the leading contributor to heart disease, cancer and stroke.
SB 793 was originally written to combat the rise of issues surrounding vaping and has evolved into targeting flavored tobacco and menthol, while totally removing hookah. Fisher asked pointedly was the bill transformed to specifically target a marginalized community?
“Absolutely,” said Sanders.
That should be a HUGE problem when White legislators craft a bill that is specifically targeting Blacks to criminalize behavior that will ultimately put them in the crosshairs of law enforcement.