Advocates Rally in Support of Prohibiting Flavored Tobacco Sales in Westchester County
White Plains, NY – This past Monday afternoon, Westchester County Legislators, the New York State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the Center for Black Health and Equity, Miss Abbie’s Kids, and other community advocates held a rally and press conference on the steps of the Michaelian Office Building to urge the passage of a new bill to prohibit the sales of flavored tobacco products across Westchester County. The rally was held just hours before the Board held a public hearing on the proposed bill.
Advocates pointed to the urgent need to stop Big Tobacco from continuing to target New York kids and communities of color, which suffer from significant health disparities due to smoking and tobacco use. The bill was carefully crafted to ensure no involvement of law enforcement, and no criminal penalties for any individuals using or possessing flavored tobacco products. The law only authorizes the Westchester County Department of Health to issue fines to businesses – not individuals – which are selling flavored tobacco products in retail establishments.
“Californians have just voted overwhelmingly in favor of barring the sale of flavored tobacco,” said Legislator Jewel Williams Johnson, Chair of the Health Committee and sponsor of the bill. “In Westchester County, we are setting the trend for our state to do the same in protecting the health of children and the general public by removing access to these deadly products.”
“With this bill, Westchester can pass the most comprehensive flavored tobacco ban in New York,” said Legislator Catherine Borgia, Chair of the Westchester County Board of Legislators. “We are showing our commitment to children and families by taking a firm stand in stopping the cycle of addiction that has been perpetrated by the tobacco industry for generations. Enough is enough.”
“Smoking and tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in the US,” said Legislator Chris Johnson, Majority Leader of the Westchester County Board of Legislators. “We also know the tobacco industry heavily advertises these products to young people and other vulnerable communities like the ones I represent in Yonkers. I see it every day as both an educator and a Legislator, and I am proud to be able to do my part to make Westchester healthier for all.”
“Westchester is fighting for the health and economic wellbeing of current and future generations,” said Legislator Erika Pierce. “According to US News and Worlds Report, smoking costs in the US was $891 billion in 2020 alone. And for communities of color, which historically have less access to medical care while also having more smoking-related disease and health complications, the impacts are particularly devastating. With this bill, we will do better.”
“Tobacco is responsible for devastating health disparities in communities of color in Westchester and across New York,” said Dr. Hazel N. Dukes, President of the NAACP New York State Conference. “For decades, the tobacco industry has targeted Black Americans with aggressive marketing around menthol flavored tobacco products – leading to disproportionately high rates of tobacco related diseases and health complications. This necessary legislation will get menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products off the shelves, while making sure not a single individual is ever targeted or criminalized for using them.”
“Big Tobacco spends millions of dollars trying to get Black and brown New Yorkers hooked on nicotine through flavored tobacco products,” said Rev. Ritney Castine, Center for Black Health and Equity. “As a result, more than 28,000 New Yorkers are dying each year from either first or second-hand smoking. Lives are at stake, and Westchester County legislators cannot wait any longer to pass this critical piece of legislation.”
“I have seen first-hand how flavored tobacco products become a gateway to getting kids hooked on nicotine for the rest of their lives,” said Isabella Jabbour, Executive Director, Students Against Nicotine. “We know smoking kills more people than alcohol, AIDS, car crashes, illegal drugs, murders, and suicides combined. It’s past time we do our part in Westchester to protect the future of our children.”
“This bill is about protecting our kids from the devastating, life-long consequences connected to smoking and tobacco use, intentionally placed on them,” said Shanequa Charles, Executive Director, Miss Abbie’s Kids. “The tobacco industry knows how to manipulate children, and that’s why they target them with millions of dollars in advertising for inexpensive, flavored products that taste like candy. Westchester County lawmakers can’t wait any longer to get these dangerous products off our shelves. My daughter Miracle DESERVES to have and become a grandmother!”
“Tobacco companies will continue to deceive our kids until we stop them. It’s in their own interest to keep selling flavored tobacco products to our children, no matter the consequences,” said Dr. Shetal Shah, Westchester County Physician. “In Westchester County, we have an opportunity right now to stop them with this bill. As a physician and the father of two teenage boys, I am calling on them to pass it.”
“Today in New York, there are an estimated 280,000 kids alive right now who will ultimately die prematurely from smoking,” said Kevin O’Flaherty, Northeast Director of Advocacy for the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “This thoughtful, comprehensive, and commonsense legislation was written to ensure no involvement from law enforcement at any point, and it will go a long way to protect kids from getting hooked on tobacco early in life. I want to thank all the lawmakers and advocates who are bravely standing up to Big Tobacco and making public health a top priority in Westchester.”
Nearly 8 in 10 young people who use tobacco use flavored varieties, with fruit, candy, desserts, mint, and menthol reported as the most popular flavors. Low-income communities of color have more than 7 times higher odds of exposure to flavored tobacco marketing, and Black Americans die at higher rates than other groups from tobacco-related diseases – including cancer, heart disease, and stroke. It is estimated that New York currently spends $17.72 billion each year in healthcare costs and lost productivity directly caused by smoking.
A vote on the proposed bill is expected to be held on November 28th.