Acting Health Commissioner Dr. McDonald Joins Tobacco Kills NY to Rally for Flavored Tobacco Ban

Recent Siena Poll Shows Majority of New Yorkers In Favor of Menthol Ban

ALBANY, NY (03/30/2023) (readMedia)-- On Thursday, in the final days before the State budget is due, Acting NYS Health Commissioner James McDonald rallied with Tobacco Kills NY – a diverse, statewide campaign of civil rights and health advocates, including the NAACP, faith-leaders, public health groups, and others – at the State Capitol in support of Governor Hochul's historic proposal to ban the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes.

This week, a new poll out from Siena College found that a significant majority of New Yorkers surveyed were in favor of the proposed ban on menthol-flavored tobacco products, with 58% in favor versus 34% against. Black and Latino New Yorkers also support a ban on flavored tobacco by a 2-1 margin. Additionally, a poll conducted by Global Strategy Group paid for by Tobacco Kills NY showed a similar result: three-out-of-five Black and Latino New Yorkers support a ban on menthol-flavored tobacco products. See cross tabs here.

Acting Commissioner McDonald was appointed earlier this year by Governor Hochul. Outgoing Health Commissioner Mary Bassett recently wrote in favor of the proposed menthol ban in The Journal News.

New York State made great strides to prevent youth tobacco use by restricting the sale of flavored e-cigarettes in 2020–but the new regulations still allowed other dangerous flavored tobacco products known to increase addiction to continue to be sold. Frequent youth e-cig use went up by 250% from 2014 - 2019 among white kids and stayed flat among black kids. The legislature responded quickly then by removing these dangerous products from the shelves – but the very same type of product that hooks Black kids is still on the market. Menthol cigarettes, which are much easier to smoke and more addictive than regular tobacco, are still available on shelves and the number one way Big Tobacco hooks young smokers and keeps Black New Yorkers addicted.

"Big Tobacco has exploited flavored products, including menthol, for decades to lure young people and communities of color into nicotine dependency through its predatory activities," Acting State Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald said. "As a pediatrician, I have personally witnessed how flavored tobacco hooks children into a deadly addiction. To protect our children, especially Black and Hispanic youngsters, we must keep up the fight against the tobacco industry and ban the sale of flavored products such as menthol."

State Senator Brad Hoylman-Sigal said, "Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Tobacco companies specifically target youth and communities of color with flavored products, which are highly addictive and worsen a slew of physical and mental health outcomes. By banning the sale of all flavored tobacco products in the executive budget proposal, Governor Hochul is rightly putting public health over profits and building off the important work of the state legislature. I am glad to see the Executive Budget raises the tax on cigarettes and bans flavored tobacco products, policies I have championed with my bill, S2441. I am thankful for the efforts of the NAACP on this issue and look forward to enacting these policies to ensure more lives are saved."

"My father passed from lung cancer due to menthol cigarette smoking, just like thousands of parents that year, and decades later, the deadly cycle continues. Big Tobacco predatorily spreads lies and misinformation to keep profiting off of the death of our communities, including outrageous false claims that these common sense restrictions will lead to criminalization," said NYS Assembly Majority Whip Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn. "New Yorkers won't be fooled by Big Tobacco anymore, and polls show the tides are turning. They know this ban will not be criminalized and that it will save lives-so they strongly support this legislation to remove flavored tobacco and deadly menthol cigarettes from our stores."

Longstanding Supporter and President of the NAACP New York State Conference Dr. Hazel N. Dukes has said, "I applaud Governor Hochul for taking on Big Tobacco to finally end its immoral and discriminatory practice of targeting kids with flavored tobacco, particularly menthol. I support this health measure because it will help reduce the health inequities facing African American communities throughout New York State. If we don't act now, tobacco companies will stop at nothing to continue targeting communities of color-particularly Black youth-with these highly addictive, poisonous, and life-threatening products."

"After decades of targeting our communities and taking loved ones away too soon for profit, Big Tobacco is adding further injury by now spreading dangerous misinformation about risks of increased police brutality and harassment if we ban menthol-flavored products. They know it's bogus -- the NYPD will have zero role in enforcing the sale of menthol products - but they're scared of losing 90,000 smokers who will stop if we ban menthol. There is no stopping how low Big Tobacco will stoop to keep its market share at the cost of Black and brown communities. It's time to ban menthol-flavored products once and for all," said Rev. Kirsten Foy.

"The use of flavored tobacco among children and young adults continues to alarmingly rise," offered Kyle Belokopitsky, NYS PTA Executive Director. "Youth health and wellness and banning flavored tobacco continues to be of highest priority to parents, families and educators across the state, as each day we see the harms of youth using tobacco in our homes, schools, and pediatrician offices. We truly thank Governor Hochul and legislative champions supporting this initiative, and plead that it be included in the final enacted state budget."

"When New York banned the sale e-cigarettes in 2020, it was a major step in stopping our children from getting hooked on tobacco products," said Andy Pallotta, President of New York State United Teachers. "We fully support the governor's proposal to ban flavored tobacco like menthol cigarettes as well, a crucial step in protecting the health of our next generation."

For generations, Big Tobacco has aggressively marketed flavored tobacco products to underage users and communities of color, creating disproportionately negative health outcomes for African-Americans in particular. In New York State, menthol cigarettes are used by over half of all adult smokers (52%). 86% of Black smokers and 72% of Hispanic smokers smoke menthols. Now 62% of Americans support a ban on menthol, including two-thirds of Black Americans. Half of young people (ages 12-17) who had ever tried smoking start with menthol cigarettes. In 2021, 41.1% of high school smokers reported using menthol cigarettes.