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Despite Federal Move, MN Groups Still Want State Menthol Ban


Thursday, May 20, 2021   

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Food and Drug Administration is exploring a ban on menthol-flavored cigarettes, a move tobacco-control advocates say is long overdue. They argued it shouldn't stop similar efforts in states such as Minnesota.

Supporters of the recently announced federal action acknowledged rules could take years to develop while facing expected lawsuits from the tobacco industry, which is why they want approval of a statewide bill to ban all flavored tobacco sales. Many municipalities in Minnesota have adopted their own bans.

LaTrisha Vetaw, health policy and advocacy manager at NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center, said the crackdown on menthol products in Minneapolis has helped, but the industry has tried to work around it.

"A corner store can no longer sell menthol or flavored tobacco products," Vetaw explained. "But now, they've put in four clear walls inside of these stores and are calling it a tobacco shop within a corner store."

Vetaw and others calling for higher-level bans contended they would help end heavy marketing of menthol products in Black communities. Opponents, including retailers, countered a ban could have unintended consequences, including the creation of more underground markets.

The proposed state ban has seen activity in recent legislative sessions, but hasn't been able to clear all the necessary hurdles.

Republican lawmakers who are skeptical of a statewide ban said it sends mixed messages amid a push for marijuana legalization. But tobacco prevention groups, not part of the legalization effort, pointed out there are a range of health effects from smoking that need to be addressed.

Laura Smith, spokesperson for ClearWay Minnesota and Minnesotans for a Smoke Free Generation, emphasized the need to press forward.

"That's why we're continuing to work statewide and on the local level to get these life-saving policies passed, because we know they can a make a big difference towards reducing these tobacco addictions and easing disparities that many people face, especially Black Americans."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 93% of Black adults who smoke started by using menthol cigarettes.

Aside from bans, the groups say the state needs to stay committed to funding prevention efforts. Various budget proposals this spring included higher totals, with money for health equity in prevention work, but advocates stressed it still needs to be part of the final spending plan.

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