On Monday, the Health, Environment and Community Engagement Committee of the Minneapolis City Council heard testimony on a proposal to limit sales of menthol tobacco to adult-only tobacco shops. Candy- and fruit-flavored tobacco sales are already restricted, but so far menthol has been exempted from the city’s tobacco ordinance.
Approximately 70 individuals gave testimony, with many supporting the proposal. Speakers stressed that menthol attracts youth and nonsmokers to smoking, and that minority communities are targeted by menthol ads and disproportionately harmed by tobacco-related diseases.
Dr. Raymond Boyle is ClearWay Minnesota’s Director of Research, and also represents Ward 1 on the city’s Public Health Advisory Committee (PHAC). Dr. Boyle noted that the PHAC unanimously supports the proposal. “The research is quite clear,” he said. “It makes it easier to start, it appeals to young people and is disproportionately marketed to communities of color.” The proposed change, he said, “is a perfect example of a strong public policy that will enhance public health.”
Vivian Jenkins Nelsen, Vice Chair of our Board of Directors and cofounder of the INTER-RACE Institute at Augsburg College, placed menthol tobacco addiction in the context of American history. “Our African ancestors were brought here to grow and pick tobacco; tobacco enslaved us. Four hundred years later, we’re still enslaved to tobacco,” she said, noting the high rates of menthol use and smoking-related disease in African American communities. “Tobacco addiction kills us more than accidents and homicides, and it’s got to stop.”
LaTrisha Vetaw of ClearWay Minnesota grantee organization NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center, which brings health services to residents of North Minneapolis, shared disturbing statistics with the Committee. “Youth use of menthol tobacco has doubled since 2000,” she said, “and 88 percent of African American smokers use menthol. The tobacco industry has long manipulated levels of menthol in their cigarettes. To them, each new smoker, and each current smoker who can’t quit, means dollar signs. ‘Profits Over People’ should be the tobacco industry’s official motto.”
Finally, Eugene Nichols of the African American Leadership Forum, a ClearWay Minnesota grantee organization, shared the heartbreaking story of his brother, who died of smoking-related illness at 68 earlier this month. “The tobacco industry has targeted African Americans with menthol cigarettes for decades,” he said. “You have the opportunity in front of you to help young people of color lead healthier lives.”
The Committee will vote on the proposal on August 2, with a final vote at the August 4 meeting of the full City Council.