Flavored Tobacco Ban Goes to Committee in Kansas City
By Sandy Foster
On February 28, 2020, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R.2339. The title of the bill is “Protecting American Lungs and Reversing the Youth Tobacco Epidemic Act.” This bill would prohibit the sale of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, flavored e-cigarettes, and flavored cigars. The bill has been received in the Senate and referred to the Committee on Finance.
A similar ordinance has been introduced in Kansas City by Councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw recently. Ordinance 200937 would restrict the sale of all mint, menthol, and other flavored tobacco products. The ordinance aims to address Kansas City’s youth vaping epidemic as well as health inequities in Kansas City’s low income and minority communities.
The Councilwoman stated in a recent interview that the legislation was motivated by the huge health disparity that can be seen in the Kansas City metropolitan area. “We have parts of KC where the average life expectancy of the population in one ZIP code is 17 years less than the life expectancy of people living one mile away. It doesn’t have to be like that,” the Councilwoman stated.
Councilwoman Parks-Shaw has spent the past 26 years working in the health care administration industry. Approximately ten of those years she has specialized in hospice work and she has seen firsthand the enormous impact smoking has on people. She is also aware of the increased use of vaping products among area youth. “Smoking in the youth population had been trending down until vaping came along,” she said. “We are going the wrong way now, with fruity flavors being used as a gateway to smoke into adulthood.”
Dr. Karla Houston-Gray, Internal Medicine physician at Midwest Metropolitan Physicians Group and Chair of the Black Health Care Coalition agreed, saying she too has seen the impact on youth in her practice. “Teens come to me and ask if they can use e-cigarettes because they think they are safe. I tell them no because we don’t know the effects of long-term e-cigarette use.”
The second issue this ordinance hopes to address is the disproportionate use of flavored tobacco products such as mint and menthol, and subsequent death rates in communities of color. These communities have been the target of tobacco companies for years, said Councilwoman Parks-Shaw. Menthol product campaigns involving advertising and promotions have resulted in disproportionate use of these products and subsequent death rates in these communities.
When asked about the possible effect removing these products from store shelves might have on area businesses, the Councilwoman responded, “Business owners are prioritizing profits over people. This legislation is about saving lives.” She went on to say, “It is unfortunate that the tobacco industry has a history of targeting youth and persons of color regarding their products. That targeting is why we have a life expectancy disparity in Kansas City and this ordinance is about reducing that health disparity.”
Several area convenience stores were contacted to discuss the impact removing flavored tobacco products could have on their business. “It would hurt our business,” said one store manager. “Menthol cigarettes are the third best-selling cigarette in our shop,” she said.
The American Heart Association and 30 other Kansas City organizations have rallied together to show support for the ordinance. They believe that eliminating these products would provide a dramatic improvement in the health of the Kansas City community.
The ordinance was brought to the Finance, Governance and Public Safety Committee in November and is scheduled to go back to the Committee on December 16 for continued discussion and a vote. If the vote is for the ordinance to continue, then it will go to the full Council for review sometime in the future.