Back­ers in­ten­sify push for ban on fla­vored to­bacco

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY FRAN SPIELMAN, CITY HALL RE­PORTER fspiel­man@sun­times.com | @fspiel­man

Warn­ing of dire con­se­quences for Chicago’s youth, pub­lic health ex­perts mounted a full-court press on Tues­day to sal­vage a city­wide ban on fla­vored to­bacco prod­ucts stalled by an avalanche of op­po­si­tion.

Ald. Matt O’Shea (19th), one of Mayor Lori Light­foot’s clos­est City Coun­cil al­lies, led the charge in ar­gu­ing that the “un­de­ni­able link between COVID-19 and pul­monary is­sues” de­mands an im­me­di­ate ban on all fla­vored to­bacco prod­ucts, in­clud­ing men­thol.

The al­der­man ar­gued that youth to­bacco use has “sky­rock­eted” over the past sev­eral years — to the point where two-thirds of high school stu­dents re­port us­ing fla­vored to­bacco prod­ucts.

“Fla­vored to­bacco is used to hook young peo­ple on ex­tremely ad­dic­tive prod­ucts . . . . The Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol re­ports that, if cur­rent to­bacco us­age trends con­tinue, more than 5 mil­lion Amer­i­cans cur­rently un­der the age of 18 will die of a to­bacco-re­lated ill­ness. That’s about one in ev­ery 13 Amer­i­cans who, to­day, are younger than 17,” O’Shea said.

As a fa­ther of three young chil­dren, O’Shea said he’s fright­ened by those sta­tis­tics.

“I don’t mind peo­ple ask­ing me, ‘Why now, Matt?’ It’s a ques­tion I’m happy to an­swer be­cause there are plenty of rea­sons why now is the right time to do this. As a fa­ther sit­ting across the din­ner ta­ble from my chil­dren each night, the ques­tion I can’t seem to an­swer is, ‘What the hell took so long?’” he said.

Bishop Ho­race Smith of the Apos­tolic Faith Church is a doc­tor at Lurie Chil­dren’s Hos­pi­tal and a mem­ber of the Chicago Board of Health.

Smith ar­gued that to­bacco com­pa­nies have “tar­geted ur­ban Black chil­dren . . . . They know that they re­spond to fla­vored to­bacco and men­thol.”

“These are killing our kids . . . . It’s a moral out­rage. We must stop this,” Smith said.

“Four months ago . . . many of us were ap­palled — and too many were sur­prised — by the in­creased num­bers of African Amer­i­cans and Brown per­sons who were dy­ing from COVID. We should not have been sur­prised. . . . The un­der­ly­ing is­sues were things like asthma, chronic lung dis­ease, di­a­betes, car­diac dis­ease — many of them at­trib­ut­able to to­bacco use.”

The Rev. Michael Pfleger said it’s no sur­prise Big To­bacco has made the “busi­ness de­ci­sion” to tar­get young peo­ple with fla­vored to­bacco prod­ucts and “heavy men­thol” cig­a­rettes.

“As more and more knowl­edge is put out there by heart and lung as­so­ci­a­tions about the dan­gers of to­bacco, more and more older peo­ple are ei­ther stop­ping smok­ing or pre­vent­ing them­selves from start­ing smok­ing,” Pfleger said.

“So, what do they do? They try to tar­get and prey on the young peo­ple … who haven’t got the un­der­stand­ing of it and feel like they’re in­vin­ci­ble and noth­ing can hap­pen to them. It must be banned. It must be stopped.”

Own­ers of gas sta­tions, con­ve­nience stores and to­bacco stores — and trade groups rep­re­sent­ing them — have ac­cused O’Shea of leg­isla­tive over­reach and kick­ing them when they’re down. They have ar­gued that the last thing small busi­nesses need is a city­wide ban on fla­vored to­bacco.

O’Shea re­sponded by say­ing he’s open to amend­ments.

Ald. Matt O’Shea

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