Many in the social justice community and Menthol Is Not A Crime are opposed to the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) proposal to ban menthol-flavored and other flavored cigarettes. Since 85% of menthol smokers are Black, at first glance, this might seem like a good way to curb smoking-related health issues, but the unintended consequences of making anything illegal that a preponderance of a historically discriminated against group use without criminal justice reform will only hurt Black people.
“In the communities where we live and work, probable cause means a whole different level of law enforcement interaction with our young people – it simply is not like in other communities,” wrote the family members of police brutality victims and The Mothers of the Movement Members, Gwen Carr (mother of Eric Garner), Sybrina Fulton (mother of Trayvon Martin) and Philonise Floyd (brother of George Floyd).
In their letter to the Biden-Harris Administration, Mothers of the Movement continued, “We have more than enough challenges now. We do not need another stop and frisk policy.”
Groups that oppose the menthol ban also believe it will lead to more over-policing of Black communities. According to the NAACP, a Black person is “five times more likely to be stopped without just cause than a white person.”
Former police chief and former national president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) stated, “I don’t want police to have one more reason to put their hands on young Black men.”
There have already been incidents where cigarettes were used to target the Black community and have had deadly consequences. Police initially approached Eric Garner for suspicion of selling single-use cigarettes, and George Floyd was approached for allegedly using a counterfeit $20 bill to purchase cigarettes. Both were killed by police while repeating the words, “I can’t breathe,” while lying face down on the sidewalk. If menthol cigarettes were to become illegal, this would only increase the likelihood of unintended consequences due to more police interactions.
The Black community will have an opportunity to vocalize their opposition to the menthol ban during the FDA’s two listening sessions on June 13 and June 15 and an open comment period that ends on July 5.