Backers intensify push for ban on flavored tobacco
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