February 26, 2020
Dear Honorable Members of the Congressional Black Caucus:
NAATPN, Inc. (the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network) is writing this letter to show our enthusiastic support for H.R. 2339, the Protecting American Lungs and Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act. We support this bill because it will reduce health disparities and the disproportionate impact of tobacco-caused lung cancer, heart disease and respiratory disease in the African American community caused by the targeted marketing of the tobacco industry and includes provisions to protect against overcriminalization and law enforcement abuses.
It would be a tragic mistake to allow the tobacco industry to continue to prey upon minority communities by targeting them with menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, inflicting untold suffering and death from tobacco-related disease, because of unsupported speculation about the impact of this legislation on policing practices. In 2009 Congress prohibited the sale of flavored cigarettes after the tobacco industry introduced those products to target kids. This bill extends that protection to menthol cigarettes and all other tobacco products. It also recognizes that African Americans began smoking menthol cigarettes only after the tobacco companies targeted their communities. Even more disturbing is that the tobacco companies continued to target African American communities even after the companies knew that these products would cause the rates of cancer and other serious disease among African Americans to skyrocket.
Menthol in cigarettes facilitates youth initiation of smoking by reducing the harshness of the smoking experience and, among youth smokers, the prevalence of menthol use is significantly higher for minority groups than for white smokers. The availability of menthol cigarettes also makes it harder to quit smoking, particularly among African Americans.
The result is that minority communities bear a disproportionate burden of the disease and death caused by cigarettes. FDA’s Tobacco Product Scientific Advisory Committee found that, from 2010 to 2020, over 460,000 African Americans will have started smoking because of menthol cigarettes and 4,700 excess deaths in the African American community will be attributable to menthol cigarettes. Flavored cigars similarly are disproportionately smoked by African American smokers, especially young people, as a result of targeted industry marketing, with a disproportionately adverse impact on the health of minority communities.
The evidence is clear that reducing the availability of flavored tobacco products will reduce the number of kids who become addicted and will increase the number of adults who quit. This is particularly true since 95% of smokers initiate smoking before the new legal age of 21; making flavored products less available to youth will have incalculable public health benefits for years to come.
H.R. 2339 contains significant safeguards against the criminalization of individual conduct involving menthol cigarettes and other flavored products. It expressly provides that no individual who purchases or possesses a prohibited flavored product, including menthol cigarettes, for personal consumption, shall be subject to a criminal penalty; nor can such purchases or possession be a justification to “stop, search, or conduct any other investigative measure against any individual.” H.R. 2339 specifically bars state or local law enforcement officers from enforcing the prohibition of flavored products, including menthol cigarettes, “including by making any stop, search, seize or arrest. . . .”
Any unfair treatment of African Americans by law enforcement officials must be addressed but the answer is not to block public health protections that will save the lives of African Americans and others. I encourage you to join over 75 public health, medical, education and civil rights groups in protecting the lives of African Americans and other racially and ethnically diverse communities.
Executive Director, NAATPN, Inc.