The Saint Paul City Council has a crucial vote coming up on Oct. 25. How they vote will illustrate just where their priorities lie. Our city leaders can choose to help protect communities of color from the tobacco industry or maintain business as usual: Choosing money over Black lives.
The ordinance to restrict the sale of menthol tobacco to adult-only businesses is similar to the one Minneapolis passed in August. It is simply about health and saving lives. It is vital to the health and safety of your youth, who are the leaders of tomorrow.
Store owners say they will lose money and be forced to close. This isn’t the first time they’ve cried wolf when it comes to regulating tobacco sales. To date, they are thriving and still pandering to our community with their poison. It’s a distraction from the real issue: the health of our community.
Currently, 88 percent of Black smokers smoke menthol cigarettes. This did not occur by chance, but because the tobacco industry has heavily targeted the Black community for five decades with its beautiful lies. The ugly truth is our community faces disproportionate health disparities because of this targeting.
Back in the late 50s and early 60s, opportunity and hope were beginning to spring up within the Black community. The tobacco industry decided to capitalize on this hope. They targeted us with their poison, menthol tobacco, by making us think they cared about our culture and our community.
Newport, the top seller of menthol cigarettes, advertised a menthol cigarette as a whole new bag of menthol. It made me think of James Brown singing “Poppa got a brand new bag.” But Newport’s bag was simply a bag of tricks that the industry tailor-made for the Black community. More than 45,000 Blacks die annually from smoking-related diseases.
It’s time for us to fight back against this targeting. The tobacco industry hides behind retailers and instills them with fear, all because they need to keep selling their deadly product. They don’t care about our health or our lives.
To the Saint Paul City Council members, I leave you with the wise words of Martin Luther King, Jr.: Any time is the right time to do right.” Your vote to restrict the sale of menthol is right.
Choose to save Black lives over tobacco industry profits.