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Nevada community leaders call for stop on proposed menthol cigarette ban

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Alex Gonzalez

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(Nevada News Service) Some community leaders in Nevada want the Biden administration to reconsider a proposed ban on menthol cigarettes.

The Food and Drug Administration has sent its final rule to the White House, which would ban the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars nationwide. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said menthol cigarettes are the choice of 81% of Black smokers, compared to 34 percent of white smokers.

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Leslie Turner, co-director of the Mass Liberation Project of Nevada, said the ban may come from genuine concern for public health, but it might also negatively affect the communities it sets out to help.

"We still believe in 2023 that the criminalization of issues is what's going to save us, and we know that's not the case from just history, and also just how movement has gone over the last 20 years," Turner observed. "I think this is just really about communities coming together and coming up with our own solutions."

Public health experts say banning more smoking products will help decrease preventable deaths, and the CDC estimates almost 6,000 Nevadans would quit smoking if the ban were enacted.

Turner argued a ban is not the answer but is advocating for more education and access to medical care.

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Civil rights groups believe there could be serious unintended consequences, citing a New York incident in 2014, when Eric Garner was approached by police for selling illegal cigarettes and died after being placed in a chokehold.

Quentin Savwoir, political director of the group Run for Something, thinks the ban could prompt more negative encounters with the police, which he is convinced would disproportionately affect communities of color.

"While I can understand and appreciate the science of why this is perceived to be a good thing, it is exceptionally shortsighted to think that banning menthol will automatically curb the addiction of those that use menthol cigarettes to cope with stress, manage their workload or simply get through the day," Savwoir contended.

Despite marijuana being legal in various states, he asserted young Black and brown boys are still unfairly criminalized. He warned a menthol ban is unlikely to yield different results.