A coalition of faith leaders, public health advocates, unions and community groups in Maryland is preparing to crank up opposition to flavored tobacco products.
A bill to ban flavored tobacco appeared likely to pass in this year’s General Assembly session but ran out of time when the session was cut short due to COVID-19.
Coalition leaders on Wednesday said they are gearing up for another campaign.
Faith & Community Against Flavored Tobacco said it will push for legislation sponsored by Sen. Mary L. Washington (D-Baltimore City) and Del. Jazz Lewis (D-Prince George’s) that would remove all flavored tobacco products from the market, including menthol cigarettes, flavored electronic smoking devices, and smokeless tobacco.
“Today, Marylanders from all faiths, political leanings, races, and regions of the state are here to tell Big Tobacco: We will not stand by while you attempt to lure yet another generation into a lifetime of tobacco addiction, disease, and death,” Ryan Turner, executive director of Community Law in Action said in a statement. “We reject the tobacco industry’s multi-million-dollar barrage of lies and vow to stop them from further exploiting our kids, and Black and Brown lives for profit.”
According to the coalition, 23% of Maryland high school students currently use e-cigarettes, a rate five times higher than adult use, and 80% of teens who have used tobacco started with a flavored product.
Anti-tobacco advocates have long accused the tobacco industry of targeting Black and Brown communities with their marketing of flavored tobacco products, especially menthol cigarettes. About 85% of all African American smokers and seven out of 10 African American youth smokers use menthol cigarettes. Black Americans are more likely to die from tobacco-related causes than any other race or ethnic group.
“Menthol and tobacco have proven to be a deadly combination for the Black community,” said the Rev. Kobi Little, president of the Baltimore City NAACP. “We can no longer permit Big Tobacco to profit from flavored products that lure children into the trap of nicotine addiction and put vulnerable populations in peril.”
The coalition faults the federal government for failing to protect kids from flavored tobacco, only restricting flavors in some types of electronic smoking devices, leaving countless flavored tobacco products ― including menthol cigarettes ― available for use by kids.
The Maryland coalition has two town halls scheduled to mobilize supporters on behalf of the Washington-Lewis legislation. One will be on Dec. 15 at 7 p.m. for residents of the Baltimore metropolitan area and the other on Dec. 17 at 7 p.m. for residents of the Washington, D.C., area.