Door Opened For Menthol Cigarette Ban

Yash Roy photo

Beaver Hills Alder Tom Ficklin (right), with city Environmental Health Director Rafael Ramos: New Haven should “not wait for anyone else and instead be a leader” on a menthol ban.

The city’s health director and a Beaver Hills alder are calling for a citywide ban on menthol cigarettes — while small business owners warned that such a prohibition could drive customers to look to other shops in other towns for not just smoking products, but also bread and milk and gas.

That public health-focused debate kicked off last Thursday night during a public workshop hosted by the Board of Alders City Services & Environmental Policy (CSEP) committee. The meeting took place in the Aldermanic Chamber on the second floor of City Hall. 

The aldermanic committee met to discuss potential steps the city may take to ban menthol cigarettes, thanks to a public-workshop proposal put forward by Beaver Hills Alder Tom Ficklin. The Centers for Disease Control says that menthol enhances the effects of nicotine on the brain, making tobacco products more addictive. 

The meeting was open to the public. It saw Ficklin speak out and city Health Director Maritza Bond write a letter of support for a potential menthol ban, as well as small business owners come out to testify against out of concern for a hit to their bottom lines. 

The Board of Alders is not currently considering any legislation to ban menthol cigarettes; rather, Thursday’s meeting was just an informational workshop, designed to start a conversation that could lead to such a ban proposal in the future.

Alders Sarah Miller, Sal Punzo, and Anna Festa at Thursday’s CSEP hearing.

Ficklin and Bond both argued that menthol cigarettes specifically harm New Haven’s Black community since tobacco companies market menthol cigarettes to Black Americans. 

The CDC and other public health officials have seconded this, stating that tobacco companies aggressively market” menthol products to Black people, making them more likely to smoke menthol cigarettes than other population groups.

According to the American Lung Association over 80 percent of Black smokers use menthol cigarettes. Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable death among Black Americans, claiming 45,000 Black lives every year. Black men also have the highest rates of lung cancer in the nation. Overall, 40 percent of all cigarettes smoked in the United States are menthol flavored. 

Young people, racial and ethnic minority groups, LGBTQ+ people, women, people with a low income and people with mental health conditions are also more likely to smoke menthol cigarettes than other population groups, according to the CDC.

In 2022, the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it plans on banning menthol cigarettes in the U.S. When the FDA originally announced that they were going to ban menthol flavored cigarettes, they set a deadline of August 2023 to work out the details. That deadline has not been met. A spokesperson for the FDA told CNN that they are now planning on completing work on the rule in coming months.” 

Ficklin argued at Thursday’s workshop that New Haven should not wait for anyone else and instead be a leader” on the issue, banning sale or usage of the flavored cigarette within city limits. The state legislature considered a similar ban during this legislative session, but the proposal did not make it out of committee. 

Although all tobacco products are addictive, menthol cigarettes are a lure, easier to start, and harder to quit for our most vulnerable populations,” Bond added in a written statement submitted to the committee. 

Richard DeJesus.

Richard DeJesus, a representative for Latino small business owners in the city and a shop owner on Chapel Street, said that a potential menthol ban would only lead people to go to a store just over city lines to get their fix. 

For businesses like his, that would mean losing customers who do not just buy menthol cigarettes but also purchase groceries and gas.

People will patronize establishments where they can get everything that they need,” DeJesus said. If I can’t get my bread, my milk and my cigarettes all in the same store, I’ll go to a different store.”

Jignesh Patel.

Another business owner, Jignesh Patel, whose store is on Townsend Avenue, added that his store is feet away from city limits, leading him to fear that a menthol ban would drive people to go to the stores right outside of town.

After hearing public testimony, CSEP chair Anna Festa said that she believes more discussion is necessary and suggested to Ficklin that he sponsor a menthol ban so that the Board of Alders can continue to debate the issue.

I’m not sure that a ban will end menthol in the city, but it might put a dent in usage,” she said.

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