By, Carol McGruder

Next week, you have a chance to save lives by voting YES on Proposition 31. By voting YES, you are voting YES for life, YES for health and you are voting to protect our youth from Big Tobacco! But most importantly you will be voting YES to help end the cycle of addiction, disease and death that tobacco companies have forced on our communities for decades.

Our state lawmakers have been in a two-year battle to save our children from addiction and tobacco corporations by supporting California’s ban on the sale of menthol and flavored tobacco products. This law was passed with overwhelming legislative support and signed into law in 2020 but the tobacco industry collected signatures and put it on the ballot. They are the sole funders and supporters and their tactics of delay, delay, delay is clearly at play.  Well, enough is enough! Enough of Big Tobacco’s racism for profit. Enough Black death at the hands of corporations looking to make a dollar from our suffering by pushing menthol in our communities.

Recently, the YES on Proposition 31 campaign, embarked on a two-day bus tour across six California cities to urge Californians to vote YES on Prop 31 to protect kids from candy-flavored tobacco. Public health advocates from across the state, health care providers, youth leaders and local officials in Fresno, Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Sacramento, Oakland and San Diego joined forces with a call to protect kids from Big Tobacco. 

But it doesn’t stop there. We also want to protect the African American community too. It is well known that tobacco companies, in the 1960s and ’70s, targeted menthol cigarettes to African American communities. So, it’s not surprising that today, over 85 percent of African American smokers prefer menthol cigarettes, compared with 30 percent of White smokers. This unique social phenomenon was principally engineered by the tobacco industry’s masterful manipulation of the growing Black, urban, segregated, consumer market in the 1960s.  It is estimated that between 1980 – 2018 1.5 million African Americans began smoking menthol cigarettes and 157,000 African Americans died prematurely because of menthol cigarettes. 

By voting YES on Proposition 31 by Tuesday, November 8 via mail-in ballot or in-person, we will end the sale of flavored tobacco, including menthol and save the lives of our children.

It has been my life fight to end the deadly impact Big Tobacco has created in Black communities across California and that is why I am a proud advocate of YES on Proposition 31 and encourage you to do the same. Here are four facts you need to know about Proposition 31 when you vote in next week’s election.

  1. What is Proposition 31? 

In 2020, a law was passed by the California legislature and signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom banning the sale of most flavored tobacco products at stores and vending machines, including those that taste like candy. Prop 31 is a vote on whether or not to uphold the existing state law which also bans the sale of flavored tobacco products to anyone under 21 years old.

  1. What would a “yes” or “no” vote mean?

A vote “YES” on Proposition 31 would uphold the ban on the sale of these addictive products. A vote “no” would overturn it. 

  1. How does Proposition 31 save our children?  

By passing Prop 31, the sale of many flavored tobacco products would end. Studies have shown that nearly 80 percent of children who use tobacco started with these items. This will help protect kids from getting addicted to nicotine and prevent another addicted generation.  

  1. If the measure passes, what happens if you get caught with flavored tobacco products?  

Nothing, the law bans the sale of flavored tobacco products, not the use.  Individual use or possession is not illegal.  Although we strongly encourage you to begin your path to a life free of nicotine addiction, you will not be criminalized for using these products.  Services and programs to help our community our being ramped up throughout the state! 

Tobacco addiction is one of the hardest to kick, let’s protect our children from forming this dangerous habit from the start.  As you prepare to vote by Tuesday, November 8, I hope that you think about your children, your neighbors, and even yourself.  Vote “YES” on Proposition 31. For more information, visit www.voteyeson31.com.

Carol McGruder is co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council; the Chair of Black Leaders Against Tobacco Injustice; and supporter of YES on Proposition 31.

P.S. Not registered to vote?  You can still register and vote up to election day!!