Opinion: The benefits of banning flavored tobacco

March 29, 2023 ­– A proposal to ban the sale of menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products in New York “can help create the first tobacco-free generation and save lives for decades to come, especially among Black New Yorkers,” according to an opinion piece by Mary Bassett and Howard Koh of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

In the piece, published March 25 in Lohud/The Journal News, Bassett, director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights, and Koh, Harvard V. Fineberg Professor of the Practice of Public Health Leadership, wrote that Massachusetts’ positive experience with a flavored tobacco ban in 2020 suggests that New York could benefit from taking similar action. Bassett is former health commissioner for New York, while Koh was formerly health commissioner in Massachusetts.

After Massachusetts implemented its ban, the state saw declines in adult smoking rates, in sales of e-cigarettes and menthol cigarettes, and in overall cigarette sales. In addition, tobacco industry claims about negative outcomes from the ban did not materialize. The industry had predicted, for example, that cross-border tobacco sales would put retail stores out of business, and that banning menthol cigarette sales would increase minority communities’ negative interactions with law enforcement—but neither of these scenarios occurred.

Koh and Bassett pointed out that Big Tobacco has pushed its products on Black Americans for decades, with deadly consequences. They noted that 85% of Black smokers use menthol cigarettes, while only 30% of white smokers use them. In addition, cigarettes—particularly menthol cigarettes—kill 45,000 Black people each year.

“The opening years of Massachusetts’ historic experience demonstrate that bans on flavored tobacco products can improve public health,” the co-authors wrote. “New York can make history too.”

Read the Lohud/The Journal News article: As New York debates flavored tobacco ban, this Massachusetts law shows promise | Opinion