Menthol cigarettes

We thank the members of the New York City Council for their efforts to protect our youth by moving forward with a vote on the flavored e-cigarettes ban. We also want to thank the lawmakers for choosing to put the menthol cigarette ban on hold, for now. It is vital that our esteemed council members heed the seriousness of the unintended consequences that a ban on menthol cigarettes would have in communities of color.

We applaud the City Council for listening to the voices of the community – those who will be affected the most on a daily basis by bans and prohibitions.

The National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), Grand Council of Guardians (GCGNY), National Association of Black Law Enforcement Officers (NABLEO), National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), representing over 200 black newspapers, and, of course, the organization I represent, Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), have stated countless times that a ban on menthol cigarettes will have unintended consequences, especially for African Americans and other marginalized communities.

As veteran law enforcement professionals, we do not engage in “scare tactics” but seek to shed light on the issues that we have seen and faced, during our decades of community policing and criminal justice experience, especially in communities of color. History teaches us that prohibition-style policies for adult consumption has not only failed to reduce use of prohibited products, but at every turn, community conditions worsened. Use increases, product quality suffers increasing harms of use, corruption surfaces, violence erupts and adult products become more accessible to youth because criminals recruit children as holders, runners and dealers.

I have dedicated 34 years of my life to public safety, enforcing the laws that our legislators placed before me. That’s what cops do, and we trust that those laws are well thought out, studied and based upon sound data and evidence. However, with this experience comes a renewed and stringent need to learn from our history, and present, and speak out against policies and bans that are unjust and discriminatory. Giving police officers a reason to detain and engage black smokers to find out where they purchased their menthol cigarettes could lead to encounters that are likely to escalate to the unnecessary use of force and arrests.

Those who purport that possession and use will not be criminal must be reminded that possession of alcohol during prohibition was not criminal. It was only illegal to manufacture, transport and sell booze but the resulting 13 years of mayhem led to repeal of the law. Marijuana has been decriminalized in New York since the 70s, but it didn’t prevent the police from targeting black and brown people for marijuana possession resulting in tens of thousands being arrested over just a few years, hence, “Stop and Frisk”

We ask that our distinguished lawmakers heed the warning signs of the unintended consequences of a menthol cigarette ban – a racially discriminatory law. We urge the City Council to listen to the voices of many law enforcement experts, civil rights leaders and ordinary citizens who have spoken out against a menthol cigarette ban and who continue to ask that our lawmakers consider the facts and make an evidence-based decision on the proposed ban of menthol cigarettes.

Recently in New York, the mothers of Trayvon Martin and Eric Garner courageously issued a public statement warning against the consequences of a proposed menthol cigarette ban. Sybrina Fulton and Gwendolyn Carr stated, “When you ban a product sold mostly in Black communities, you must consider the reality of what will happen to that very same over-represented community in the criminal justice system.”

The more encounters we as police initiate, the more opportunity there is for hostility, and the less likely it is that people will trust us when we need them the most. If people don’t trust us, they won’t serve as witnesses and they won’t come forward with information. That means we can’t do our jobs.

Let’s work together and use our time and resources to focus on education about the dangers and harms of smoking and help and treatment for those who want to quit. That’s what has resulted in 66% decline in smoking over the last 50 years.

Thank you – New York City Council – for your diligence in protecting the health and public safety of our citizens, especially our youth. And thank you for putting the menthol cigarette ban on hold!

Major Neill Franklin (Ret.), a 34-year law enforcement veteran of the Maryland State Police and Baltimore Police Department, currently serves as executive director of Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP).