The Marion Board of Health is not yet ready to take any action on its proposal to ban flavored tobacco products and menthol cigarettes outside adult-only retail stores, with Chairman John Howard saying that the board was still in the “gathering information stage.”
Still, representatives on both side of the issue continue to attend Board of Health meetings as long as the matter appears on the agenda for discussion.
On December 12, Dennis Lane of the Coalition for Responsible Retailing attended yet one more consecutive Marion BOH meeting to defend his stance that menthol cigarettes should not be included in a flavored tobacco/nicotine product ban, repeating such points as discrimination against minorities who smoke menthol cigarettes at a higher rate than the white population, and also the disparity between alcohol laws and tobacco laws.
Retailers, Lane says, are the gatekeepers between the young population and nicotine-containing products, and the board should continue to trust the regulations now in place that have proven effective in Marion.
Just for clarification, Board of Health member Jason Reynolds asked Lane if his only objection to the flavored nicotine product ban proposal was with menthol cigarettes. “Yes,” said Lane, saying menthol cigarettes account for nearly 35% of cigarette sales, which several Marion business owners have attested to during prior Board of Health meetings.
Cheryl Sbarra, director of the Tobacco Cessation and Prevention Program and Chronic Disease Prevention Program for the Massachusetts Association Health Boards, said she wanted to make it clear that some groups who have contacted the board recently are associated, and in some cases funded by, the tobacco industry.
Sbarra specifically mentioned the Massachusetts Association of Minority of Law Enforcement Officers who had sent letters to the Marion Board of Health and had attended a meeting in the past. Sbarra referred to MAMLEO as a branch of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives which, according to Sbarra and the research she recently did, has accepted funding from the tobacco industry in the past.
Sbarra went on to say that the common argument against a ban on menthol cigarettes by some Black public health advocates is that a ban would trigger a black market in menthol cigarettes and put the Black population at risk, since Black smokers comprise the largest population of menthol cigarette smokers.
The black market argument, Sbarra said, “It comes up every time menthol is being considered, but nobody has been given us any data on the black market…when you’re looking at a restriction on flavor, including menthol.”
The Black community is not the only vulnerable population where menthol cigarettes are concerned, Sbarra said. In Marion, the young population and LGBTQ community is also targeted.
“Menthol is more dangerous than regular cigarettes,” Sbarra said. “It makes tobacco easier to suck in with the menthol, and it also makes it harder to quit.”
Reynolds asked Sbarra if there were any nearby towns that have enacted a ban on flavored tobacco and flavored nicotine-containing products (excluding menthol), and Sbarra said the Towns of Wareham, Carver, and Fairhaven have enacted such regulations.
The board will continue to discuss the matter, but as Howard stated, no further action is planned at this time.
The next meeting of the Marion Board of Health is scheduled for January 9 at 4:30 pm at the Marion Town House.
Marion Board of Health
By Jean Perry