ENGLEWOOD — A group of local politicians, clergy and medical professionals are refusing to back down from their mission to end the sale of flavored tobacco, saying the products target youth and communities of color.
The coalition, led by Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th), hoped the Chicago Flavor Ordinance — introduced to City Council in June — would send a message to the tobacco industry that Chicago’s children are off-limits.
O’Shea sponsored the bill, which stalled in the Health and Human Relations committee last week after protests from store owners, who are worried the ban will negatively impact their bottom lines. O’Shea pushed back on that idea.
“The vast majority of Chicago businesses do not make their money selling tobacco products,” O’Shea said during a Tuesday virtual panel discussion. “Any reduction in tobacco use is only going to benefit their insurance premiums, and that’s totally going to benefit their workforce.”
And with a global pandemic that isn’t going away anytime soon, time is of the essence, O’Shea said.
“Given the link between respiratory issues and the current COVID-19 pandemic, it is important that we act now to protect young people from a lifetime of tobacco addiction,” O’Shea said. “We are at a critical time where we have the opportunity to save children’s lives by getting these products out of circulation.”
Tuesday’s panel was moderated by Alex Meiner from the American Heart Association.
The alderman was joined by a number of community advocates and religious leaders, including Phoenix Matthews, associate dean of equity and inclusion in the College of Nursing at University of Illinois at Chicago.
Matthews said even though overall smoking rates are declining, they are twice the national average in Black communities.
“We’re more likely to develop and die from smoking-related illness, and COVID-19 deaths are higher among Black people due to high rates of smoking-related co-morbidities,” Matthews said.
The real culprit? Menthol, Matthews said.
“Menthol has an anesthetic effect. It allows for deeper inhalation, which allows for young people to be exposed to higher levels of nicotine and promotes rapid addiction,” Matthews said. “So youth who start with a menthol product are much more likely to go on to become lifelong addicted smokers.”
Matthews believes removing all flavored tobacco and menthol products is a matter of “common sense and equitable public health policy,” an important step to redress a decades-long marketing strategy that resulted in a disproportionate amount of Black people developing tobacco addictions.
Community education on the harms of tobacco products and free treatments to quit smoking would also be part of the plan.
“This is a multi-pronged approach that really represents equitable tobacco control,” Matthews said.
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