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NYCHA tenant leaders call on City Council to ban sale of flavored e-cigs and menthols

“We have an epidemic threatening our community — and it is children and people of color who are most at risk.”

September 3, 2019 Noah Goldberg
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A group of NYCHA tenant associations in Brooklyn are calling on Councilmember Laurie Cumbo to throw her support behind legislation banning the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigarettes, arguing the nicotine products disproportionately harm black people and young people.

Tenant leaders from Lafayette Gardens, the Walt Whitman Houses, the Ingersoll Houses and the houses at Atlantic Terminal penned a letter Friday to Cumbo, the City Council majority leader, citing statistics that show the sky-high rates at which black New Yorkers are becoming addicted to menthol cigarettes.

Big Tobacco has heavily marketed menthol to our community with slick ad campaigns and insidious community sponsorships,” the tenant association leaders wrote. “So it’s no surprise that African-American cigarette smokers are nearly 11 times more likely to use menthol cigarettes than white smokers.”

Eighty-five percent of black adult smokers and 64 percent of Latinx smokers choose menthols, according to an op-ed written for City Limits by Councilmember Fernando Cabrera, who introduced the bill to ban the flavored cigarettes in January. The bill has not yet been up for a vote.

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“Big Tobacco has targeted black and brown kids and communities for decades — and it needs to stop,” said Darold Burgess, president of the tenant association at the Ingersoll Houses. “Every year in Brooklyn, thousands of menthol smokers die who could have been saved. The City Council needs to stand up to Big Tobacco and restrict menthol sales.”

Cumbo is not currently sponsoring either of the City Council bills the tenant associations are urging her to support. Each bill currently has 20-plus cosponsors.

The number of young people using e-cigarettes increased by 78 percent from 2017 to 2018 countrywide, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. In New York State, 27 percent of high school students use e-cigarettes, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

“We have an epidemic threatening our community — and it is children and people of color who are most at risk,” the tenant leaders wrote.

Other legislation before the council would not allow sale of e-cigarettes within 500 feet of the city’s schools, though teachers said that is unlikely to stop young would-be vapers.

The flavors of e-cigarette that would be banned in New York City include “fruit, chocolate, vanilla, honey, candy, cocoa, dessert, alcoholic beverage, herb or spice.”

Fruit flavors are among the most common at major e-cigarette company Juul, though the company told the Brooklyn Eagle that it has stopped selling non-tobacco flavors at retail stores and only sells the flavors online.

A spokesperson for Juul did not respond to request for comment on the specific legislation that would ban the sale of flavored e-cigarettes. Juul has spent nearly $80,000 so far this year lobbying the city’s elected officials, according to public lobbying records.

Councilmember Cumbo declined to give comment on her stance on the legislation.

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