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Statement from Elizabeth Furgurson, COO of ASH in Support of DC’s Bill to Ban Flavors in Tobacco Products

Statement from Elizabeth Furgurson, Chief Operating Officer of ASH
in Support of the District of Columbia’s Bill to Ban Flavors in Tobacco Products

June 29, 2021

Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) applauds the DC City Council for acting today to reduce the death toll of flavored tobacco products. We particularly thank champions like Councilmembers Mary Cheh, Charles Allen, and Vincent Gray for their leadership for health. We urge Mayor Muriel Bowser to immediately sign the bill into law.

Cigarettes are the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. and D.C., and menthol cigarettes are a leading contributor to health inequity for the Black community. Health equity must be our driving force in all tobacco policy.

Tobacco products, and menthol cigarettes particularly, violate the right to health of all District residents, and especially people of color.

The D.C. Tobacco-Free Coalition and ASH recently submitted a report to the international human rights treaty body for the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). The U.S. is a party to CERD and is required to ensure all citizens have the right to the highest attainable standard of health. We asked the CERD committee to hold the U.S. accountable and to take steps to ban menthol as a way to protect African Americans’ right to health. This vote today in Washington, DC is taking the U.S. one step closer toward achieving its commitments towards ICERD.

It is no accident that 85% of Black people who smoke use menthol cigarettes. It is the result of more than 70 years of targeted marketing by the tobacco industry, including giving away free menthol cigarettes to children in poor, predominantly Black neighborhoods. As an R.J. Reynolds executive said when asked why he didn’t smoke: “We don’t smoke that shit! We just sell it. We reserve the right to smoke for the young, the poor, the black and the stupid.” R. J. Reynolds is the maker of Salem mentholated cigarettes.

While Black Americans smoke at a lower rate than other racial groups, they are disproportionately burdened with disease and early death due to smoking. Largely, menthol cigarettes are the cause. Menthol smooths the path for youth addiction and makes it more difficult for adults to quit smoking.

Banning menthol cigarettes will further social justice, human rights, and health equity in the District of Columbia.