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DC Passes Bill Banning Menthol Cigarettes, Sends It to Mayor's Desk

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Amid criticisms of the police and Big Tobacco, the Washington, D.C., City Council on Tuesday approved a bill banning flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes.

Despite warnings that the law would have vast, negative unintended consequences, the council approved the measure 8-5, according to the Washington Examiner.

“If the question is, ‘Is menthol bad for us?’ the answer certainly is yes. But if the question is, ‘Is smoking bad for us?’ the answer also is yes,” said council member Robert C. White Jr.,  who opposed the ban, according to The Washington Post.

“In the original bill, we were trying to get at things that were targeted toward youth, flavored items. Menthol to me seems like a different category. … I’m seeing this as paternalistic.”

White predicted that the ban would “create a black market for menthol [cigarettes], and African-Americans would get the product in Maryland or Virginia.”

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His comments were part of a council effort to keep enforcement of the law out of the hands of police, whom council members characterized as an enemy of the black community.

As noted by The Post, the council put enforcement of the law in the lap of the district’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs.

Further, the bill says that although it is a crime to sell menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products, it is not a crime to smoke them.

Some council members said they feared that passage of the legislation would increase interactions between black D.C. residents and the police.

Is this going too far to protect people from bad choices?

“We saw a young man killed in our city by law enforcement because he didn’t have a helmet on his scooter,” White said, according to WTOP-TV. “I have seen, with my own eyes, young people surrounded by swarms of police for playing on a playground that was locked, for running down a street with no other evidence. …

“It may be our intention to not have a disproportionate enforcement. But that doesn’t mean anything in the real world.”

But the driving force behind passage was to stop minority youth from smoking.

“Four out of five kids who use tobacco started with a flavored product,” council member Christina Henderson said, according to WTOP.

“Seventy-two percent of high schoolers who use e-cigarettes use flavored e-cigarettes; 54 percent of youth ages 12 to 17 years old who smoke use menthol cigarettes, and one Juul pod delivers the same amount of nicotine as a full pack of 20 cigarettes,” she said.

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Henderson said 85 percent of those smoking menthol cigarettes are black.

Tambra Raye Stevenson, health chairwoman of D.C.’s chapter of the NAACP, said tobacco was “weaponized” against black people by corporations and society, according to WUSA-TV.

“We have to understand that we are pawns in this game of chess, but we can choose to opt out of this game,” Stevenson said. “We are done just surviving. We have to thrive, and flavored tobacco isn’t going to get us to that promised land.”

She said she sees the bill as a milestone for black residents.

“There should be things that are let go of, especially in the time of COVID,” Stevenson said. “We should be keeping things that are good for the mind, body and spirit, and we should be letting go of the things that destroy and debilitate us and send us to the ER and ICU.”

The bill now goes to Mayor Muriel Bowser. Bowser in the past has supported curbs on selling flavored tobacco, but she has not weighed in on this specific bill.

This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.

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