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A proposed ban in New York City on menthol cigarettes has led to two opposing groups of advocates debating the potential effects on the Black community.

The proposal of further city and state bans on the sale of menthol cigarettes has created an unexpected conflict between groups of Black activists, visibly seen on Thursday afternoon (March 9) in dueling protests for and against the bans held a half-hour apart near City Hall. 

A group of activists led by the family members of Eric Garner and George Floyd held a protest against the ban on the steps of City Hall. “We don’t need more interaction by police enforcement, we had enough,” Gwen Carr, Garner’s mother, said at the protest. “My son was a victim because allegedly he was selling ‘loosie’ cigarettes. That’s what they’re going to do when they ban these cigarettes.”

Another protest, led by members of the NAACP along with 40 clergy members in front of One Police Plaza, advocated for the bans to commence. “The big lie is that the police are going to come into our communities if we ban menthol cigarettes,” said NAACP New York State Conference President Hazel Dukes. “Our children are dying. Our kids think menthol is great. They think it’s bubblegum,” she continued. 

While there is a current ban on most flavored tobacco producs in New York State, the 2024 fiscal budget put forth by Governor Kathy Hochul contains the proposed ban on the sale of menthol cigarettes and a tax increase on other tobacco products. The city’s ban proposal, brought forth by Council member Rita Joseph and 19 others, bears similarities to the state ban and contains language which will “prohibit police officers or other law enforcement officers from arresting any person on the grounds in relation to any flavored tobacco product.”

Menthol cigarettes have enjoyed a high degree of popularity in the Black community. According to data compiled by New York public health officials, $177 million of the $9.1 billion spent annually by major tobacco companies goes to marketing in the state. Observers and critics have pointed out how these tobacco companies have aggressively marketed menthol tobacco products to the Black community through targeted ads, giveaways and event sponsorship. Menthol cigarettes, while consumed by half of all adult users, are smoked primarily by 86% of Black smokers and 72% of Latino users, according to reported data.