As Black law enforcement professionals, we agree that the health of Black people in Westchester is a concern. Yes, there is a crisis in health care, obesity, cancer, and other chronic and seriously fatal illnesses. We recognize the Westchester County legislature’s well-intentioned efforts to reduce tobacco product deaths and diseases. However, this county legislation will affect Black communities more than white communities. Depending on the data used, it is estimated that 74% to 95% of Black Americans smoke menthol cigarettes, and 80% to 90% of white Americans smoke non-menthol cigarettes. 

A menthol ban that only punishes Westchester’s Black population while the lives of Westchester’s white population are unaffected is biased and, some might say, outright racist. 

All Black law enforcement organizations, including the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, have said that this ban is a bad idea, that the bill is biased, will feed the black market, and will create the new Stop-and-Frisk. 

To pass legislation that will have a severe racially disparate impact on Black people while white people in Westchester can smoke freely with impunity is a sign of governmental microaggression, which is unacceptable, even with the intention to save Black people’s lives.

If passed, the legislation that will have a severe racial disparate impact on Black people while white people in Westchester can smoke freely with impunity is contradictory to your government’s message of equity and diversity. 

New York State has the highest rate of inbound cigarette smuggling activity in the U.S., with an estimated 60% of cigarettes consumed in the state deriving from smuggling. Eighty percent of the cigarettes sold in New York City are sold illegally, either over the counter or in the backrooms of bodegas. While our politicians legalized marijuana on the one hand and plan to criminalize only menthol cigarettes, which are primarily used by Black people, on the other, we are only substituting one illegal substance for the other. We will feed the demand for more illegal sales that will directly affect Westchester’s Black communities and create more interactions with Black residents with police. 

The Westchester County government has received a plethora of letters and statements from various law enforcement professionals, including a retired Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agent. But still, the health committee did not do their due diligence to have law enforcement agencies like the district attorney’s office, the ATF, and the Westchester County Chiefs Association testify on any unintended consequences to public safety before it came out of committee. 

By no means do we support smoking, but to push a political agenda of a menthol ban down the throat of the public when, according to the CDC, cigarette smoking is at an all-time low is a prime example of how government overreaches on the rights of a people to have a choice. 

It’s also disingenuous for supporters to use the narrative of the effect of smoking on children when the county has already made it illegal for stores to sell cigarettes to anyone under 21. If the county is admitting that there is a problem with children easily obtaining cigarettes, then they are willfully acknowledging that the black market and illegal sales are out of control in the county. 

Article 13-F Section 1399-CC of the NYS Public Health Law prohibited the sale of tobacco and vapor products and smoking paraphernalia to people under the age of 21. The county-proposed legislation is more symbolism without substance. According to Westchester County Legislator James Nolan, by passing this Menthol Ban, Westchester County is willing to throw away $36 million in Sales Tax Revenue on menthol-flavored cigarettes. The county collects an additional $5 million on other flavored tobacco products. 

If Westchester County is serious about Black people in Westchester’s health and wellness, they should put their money where their mouth is! Take the $40 million in tax revenue and invest in health and wellness programs, making sure Black communities, especially our Black seniors, have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, investing in outreach for nicotine patches and gum, and educating on the dangers of smoking.

Let us not forget, a Westchester City, with a population of 80 thousand and 80% Black people, hasn’t had a fully functioning hospital for over a decade. This should have been considered a public health emergency a long time ago! But our county legislators’ health committee is silent. Again, if passed, County Executive George Latimer must VETO this legislation. 

Thank you for your time in this matter. 

Damon K. Jones is a New York state representative of Blacks in Law Enforcement of America. He  is a 32-year veteran at the Westchester County Department of Corrections.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *