The proposed ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products in New York by Gov. Kathy Hochul has been met with opposition by those who contend that banning flavors, including menthol, the preferred product by Black Americans, would lead to increased policing of Black people. Opponents, many with ties to big tobacco, have argued that any banning of flavored and mentholated tobacco products places too specific a target on the preferences of Black communities.
However, labeling tobacco use that results from the predatory marketing and targeting of Black Americans as a “preference” and framing efforts to ban the sale of menthol products as an encroachment on the civil liberties of Black people is a position that undermines the ultimate violence that tobacco has on Black bodies and communities as a result of its use. In addition, this argument comes straight from big tobacco’s playbook and unfortunately they have found mouthpieces in the Black community willing to voice this position for a mere piece of bread.
The connection between police violence and menthol and other flavor bans is a matter of correlation not equaling causation. The only correlation between the two is that the producers and marketers of menthols and other flavored tobacco products and law enforcement systems both enact violence against communities of color. This stance on overpolicing ignores the fact that state-sanctioned perpetrators rarely need a legal reason to inflict deadly force on people of color.
A ban for retailers on a product that also kills Black people at disproportionate rates, would not suddenly create an atmosphere of overpolicing. Black people have been overpoliced for generations. And police brutality, like predatory tobacco marketing, is its own dragon in a cabal of deadly forces to be abolished. Additionally supporting the lack of causation between flavor bans and overpolicing is the absence of any data that shows any connection between overpolicing and the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act that banned strawberry and grape flavored cigarettes in 2009. Over 14 years have passed and not one piece of data has been produced since that time to support the overpolicing argument.
The fact is, banning the sale of menthol and other tobacco flavors will save lives. A ban would create breathing room for those–who have been bombarded for generations with marketing meant to drive them to a “preference” that can and does kill them–to receive cessation tools and resources that will lead to healthier lives for Black Americans.