Reverend K. W. Tulloss (courtesy photo)

The National Action Network (NAN),one of the nation’s leading civil rights organizations with chapters throughout the entire United States, is focused on promoting a civil rights agenda that includes the fight for one standard of justice and equity for all people regardless of race, religion, nationality or gender.

Since over 80 percent of African Americans who choose to smoke prefer menthol cigarettes, a possible ban on menthol cigarettes will clearly affect African American communities more than other segments of the population in Los Angeles County.

The National Action Network does not want people to smoke. We do not want youth to smoke and we want to help people who would like to stop smoking, to quit. We know that African American smokers are more likely to die prematurely from tobacco-related diseases and are statistically less successful in attempts to quit than smokers of other racial backgrounds for many reasons.

We appreciate the efforts of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to protect the health and well-being of all Angelinos including African Americans. However, even proposed policies with the best intentions can be vulnerable to significant unintended consequences, especially if the sale of menthol cigarettes is criminalized.  The same data that show the alarming rise in youth use of vapor products show that youth use of menthol cigarettes is under two percent that is less than non-menthol cigarettes or any other tobacco product.  In addition, the data from the California Department of Public Health shows that more teens are using non-menthol cigarettes than mentholated cigarettes.

A ban on menthol cigarettes in our community would be a repeat of past inequities. First, as we saw during alcohol Prohibition in the 1920s and the more recent “War on Drugs,” people who choose to consume these products will still do so, regardless of the legality. The question will only be how they obtain it.

Criminalizing the sale of products people wish to consume only encourages the establishment of illicit trade to provide these products to consumers who want them.  Law enforcement will be called upon to enforce the ban and to enforce the law against those who engage in this illicit trade that will inevitably happen in African American communities in Los Angeles.  At a time in which we know that interactions between law enforcement and young men and women of color lead all-too-often to tragic results, we should be looking to lessen any negative encounters in our community with law enforcement.

A ban on menthol cigarettes will do far more harm in the African American community than any minimal benefit.

We wholeheartedly support the proven methods of education and treatment to reduce smoking.

We should not defer to the criminalization of menthol cigarettes to solve a public health crisis.

We urge members of the Los Angeles County Staff and the Board of Supervisors to listen to the voices of those who are going to be most affected and those who have always borne the brunt of inequity.

We urge the Los Angeles County Staff and the Board of Supervisors to remove the consideration of a menthol ban from any further discussion about regulating tobacco products in Los Angeles.