Opinion: Yes, A Menthol Cigarette Ban Promotes a Legacy of Discrimination

REV. DR. JOHNNIE GREEN
REV. DR. JOHNNIE GREEN
M-PAC
Rev. Dr. Johnnie Green

Opinion: Yes, A Menthol Cigarette Ban Promotes a Legacy of Discrimination

And communities of color feel the dangerous and negative impacts
February 12, 2020

My name is Rev. Dr. Johnnie Green, and I am the Senior Pastor at Mount Neboh Baptist Church in Harlem. I am also the President of Mobilizing Preachers and Communities (or “MPAC”), which is a non-profit civil rights and faith-based organization with a membership of over 300 churches through the New York and tri-state area. I co-founded MPAC because I felt that the church needed to take a more active role in the life of the community to ensure justice and equality for all people. It is because of these concerns that I write to you today.

First, I want to take a moment to applaud the New York City Council, and Speaker Cory Johnson, for their efforts to protect our youth by passing the flavored e-cigarettes ban.

However, I do find it troubling that the City Council would simply put the menthol cigarette ban on hold instead of completely doing away with it. Despite the blood, sweat, and tears of New York City’s Black community, the facts are still being overlooked: the Black community feels the dangers and negative impacts of discriminatory and racists bans. The Black community is the most impacted by bans and prohibitions and the criminal activity that ripples throughout our streets, alleys, and homes after the gavel is raised.

People have the right to choose not to smoke, and with the right public education information available, more people could choose this path. However, menthol cigarette opponents do not have the right to tell adults, majority African-Americans, that they cannot choose to smoke menthol cigarettes. Americans believe in freedom, choice, and prosperity. Everyone is entitled to their own personal beliefs whether it be cultural, religious or customs, but opponents to menthol cigarettes are not entitled to encroach on the rights of others who disagree.

Moreover, we simply don’t need another reason for police/civilian interactions that can have life-threatening or life-altering results. This is especially so for black and brown communities as the tragic murder of Eric Garner has proven. Research shows that of the black adults who choose to smoke, nearly 80% prefer menthol cigarettes – this includes black smokers in New York. A ban on menthol cigarettes can put a selective target on black smokers and essentially add fuel to a police accountability fire that continues to burn on a daily basis. And it is no secret that the NYPD is not immune to this problem.

In the piece, Opinion: A Long Overdue Report Card on Racial Inequality in New York City, the authors share a striking fact that applies all too well in this instance: “The only continuing pre-1965 ethnic conflict is between the city’s predominantly White ethnic police force and Black and Latino youth. Annually, more Black and Latino youth are repeatedly stopped and frisked than live in the entire City of New York. In the process, their civil rights are violated, and they are unnecessarily humiliated and endangered. The overwhelming majority of these young people are law-abiding and commit no crimes.”

We must protect our community. And we must protect our voice! Our voices are strong and mighty and echo through the streets of our city: Do not put a selective target on my back. I am free to make my own choices. I am free.

Giving police officers a reason to detain and engage black smokers to find out where they purchased their menthol cigarettes could lead to encounters that are likely to escalate to the unnecessary use of force and arrests. We do not need more of this in our Black communities.

To the New York City Council & State Legislature: How is it that you have not closed the door on a bill that would further institutionalize discrimination? The reality of a passed menthol cigarette ban is that Joe from Uptown can still purchase his Marlboro’s, but James from Harlem can no longer purchase his Newports. There’s something gravely wrong with this potential outcome.

Let’s prioritize what matters to our communities, instead of wasting time on issues that don’t serve the people. Do not pass the menthol cigarette ban. Do not pass bans that promote a legacy of discrimination.

Sincerely,

Rev. Dr. Johnnie Green

Rev. Dr. Johnnie Green
20200606