By Philtrina Farquharson, Contributing Writer

According to the Tobacco-Free Kids Action Fund, over two million middle and high school students use e-cigarettes, and more than 85% of Black Americans and other communities of color who smoke, use minty menthols or flavored tobacco products. After decades of big tobaccos targeting minorities, most of their customers have died, and now they are looking to target the next generation to continue the cycle and raise profits. 

To put an end to this cycle, this past week, ahead of World No Tobacco Day (May 31), local Black leaders, including U.S. Rep. Karen Bass, set up a press conference at Crenshaw High School in South Los Angeles. This press conference sought to emphasize the damage done and send out a call to action to urge the community to vote to put an end to big tobacco’s advancements toward young children. 

“We want to protect all children, but we want to protect our Black babies like other people’s babies are protected. Somehow, when people think about protecting Black children, our kids are seen as being able to fend for themselves or not seen at all. We see you; we love you”, said Carol McGruder, Co-Chair African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC).

At Crenshaw High School, where the press conference took place, the Tobacco Use Prevention Program (TUPE) and Children Youth and Family Collaborative (CYFC) have been working together to educate and promote healthy alternatives to tobacco use. High school students are encouraged to join in to create campaigns on campus to focus on healthy choices to drug use in general. 

“I am happy I was able to get students involved just because it is a lot harder to stand out as someone who is opposed to the norm or the things that seem normal to everybody else. I am proud of the students for feeling empowered in that aspect, talking to their peers, and making an impact on the community by being a part of TUPE and a program that will help them in the future,” said Katerin Ortego, After-School Program Manager at CYFC. 

In 2009 Barack Obama signed the Tobacco Control Act, and at that time, it gave the FDA the authority to take all flavored tobacco off the market except for menthol. With this exception, vaping and e-cigarettes have become highly popular, having evolved to look less deadly with the influx of flavors to choose from. An LA Times investigation explained the process of Lobbyists being paid to deliberately target Black neighborhoods to foster addiction, leading to diseases and death in Black communities.  

“Black children are not born with a Newport or Swisher Sweets in their mouths. The tobacco companies are there at every turn to ensure another generation is addicted to these products. They know that flavors entice children,” said U.S. Rep Karen Bass. 

As the press conference went on, leaders continued to shed light on the opportunities available to change for now and the next generation to come, including using our right to vote to make a change. The California ballot will include Senate Bill 793 (SB793) during the November elections, which was initially signed into law on August 28, 2020. Voting yes will uphold the bill and prohibit the sale of flavored tobacco products and tobacco product flavor enhancers. Retailers would be fined $250 for each sale violating the law.

“We, the teachers, administrators, and parent community, do all we can to create a safe space to maximize learning. Creating that safe space also protects our schools from undoing negative external influences. Tobacco is a serious concern that needs to be addressed,” said Principal Donald Moorer. 

As we all know, big tobacco’s niche targeting children will disproportionately affect the Black community and if change is not made, over time we will see the detriment to the community. To learn more, you can visit https://bigtobaccoisracist.com/.