Several members of the Advocates for Healthy Choices club on the campus of Crenshaw High School STEMM Magnet joined representatives from The Campaign to Protect California’s Kids during a recent press conference in front of their school.

“These kids take the time to come together to talk about ways to better inform their classmates on ways to avoid the pressures of tobacco,” said Crenshaw Principal Donald Moorer at the gathering. “Targeting menthol flavored cigarettes at our children is not O.K.”

There will be a November, 2022 ballot measure in California where voters will decide whether or not to overturn SB 793. This law, even though it was signed by the governor, was successfully halted via referendum by the tobacco industry.

SB 793 can be one of the country’s strongest restrictions on flavored tobacco — targeting the removal of menthol-flavored tobacco products from store shelves.

“There is still an unchecked danger that is targeting us kids,” said 10th grader and club member Braylin Babb. “Menthol flavored cigarettes are the only flavored tobacco cigarettes that remain available for sale in the state of California. Young people are being led to try this dangerous product every day.” 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) over 7 out of 10 African-American youth between ages 12 and 7 who smoke, prefer menthol cigarettes. 

“I hope that my voice can help to urge Californians to understand that we need to get rid of the menthols because it is a ploy for big tobacco to try and hook another generation of young people,” Babb said.

LAUSD School Board Member George McKenna was also on hand. He sponsored a unanimously passed-resolution two years ago, titled tobacco-free and vaping-free schools in communities. Beyond prohibiting tobacco products on campuses, the resolution also established education programs for students like Babb.

Carol McGruder, chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC) stood by the teenager, encouraging his comments and urged him to back her up while she stepped to the podium. Her group, formed in 2008, has been at the forefront of taking tobacco out of Black communities nationwide.

“It is appropriate that we’re here with young people, the children and young people that this law was designed to protect.” McGruder said. “Somehow when people think about protecting Black children, our kids are somehow seen as being able to fend for themselves, or they are not seen at all. Their needs are invisible. We are the adults and we will protect our young.”

According to McGruder, Big Tobacco has many tactics to lure the youth in African-American communities into a lifetime of nicotine and tobacco addiction, including menthol cigarettes and candy-flavored vaping products. In her words, this is a health crisis which has relegated Black children to the back of the bus.

“Menthol makes the poison go down easier,” she said, noting that the menthol sensation anesthetizes the esophagus and lungs, letting the smoker hold the toxins in the lungs longer and deeper. “And our people die disproportionally from these products in vast numbers. We’re here to say that we are not going to allow another generation of our children to be hooked on these products. It’s over.”

McGruder is calling on Californians to make the state menthol-free by voting “Yes” on the November ballot. 

For additional information, visit https://www.savingblacklives.org/.

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