Open Letter to City of Chicago

To whom it may concern:

In 2013 we were very proud that Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel took unprecedented steps to create a progressive city that prioritized the health of its citizens. He requested the Chicago Board of Health and the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) to undertake a series of initiatives aimed at curtailing the use of menthol cigarettes by Chicago youth. In doing so, he effectively protected thousands of Chicago residents from the dangers of tobacco.

We are disappointed that Mayor Emanuel may be scaling back his menthol legislation under immense duress from the tobacco industry. We stand in agreement with the Respiratory Health Association that knows that a critical step in preventing tobacco-related death is by curbing the sale of mentholated tobacco.

Let it be known that we fully support the Tobacco 21 initiative. We know that preventing youth smoking initiation is foundational to thwarting the tobacco industry’s intention to trap people in addiction. Yet, it is a mistake to assume that dependency and death is an age issue. Nowhere is menthol’s death grip felt more than in African American communities across this country, where about 84 percent of African American smokers smoke menthol cigarettes, compared to 24 and 32 percent of Caucasians and Hispanics, respectively.

Chicago has one of the largest African American populations in the country, and having menthol banned near Chicago schools was a big win for anti-tobacco control. Those efforts now serve as a model for other municipalities around the country developing tobacco prevention policies.

NAATPN and its partners are working diligently to ensure that menthol remains a national issue, and we have taken the matter to the federal government. However, our efforts are strengthened by the support of cities who have the courage, leadership and foresight to recognize the necessity in standing against big tobacco.

We advise that you as you raise the age to 21, you remember that peppermint, wintergreen, spearmint and candy cane are all members of the same “characterizing flavor” family: Menthol.

Chicago communities want to live healthy lives, and the potential for that should be made as easy as possible. We encourage the city of Chicago to stand its ground when it comes to the 500 Foot Buffer Zone.

It is saving lives.

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