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Local view: Restrict sales before another generation falls victim

As a lifelong resident of Duluth with family roots deep within the African-American community, I applaud the decision of members of the Duluth City Council to introduce an ordinance that would restrict the sale of menthol cigarettes to adults-onl...

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Denfeld’s 1947 boys basketball team is the only Denfeld basketball team to win a state title. The team’s head coach was Lloyd Holm. Team members were Rudy Monson, Larry Tessier, Paul Nace, Kenneth Sunnarborg, Eugene Norlander, Howard Tucker, Tony Skull, Jerry Walczak, Bruce Budge, Keith Stolen and student manager Bob Scott.

As a lifelong resident of Duluth with family roots deep within the African-American community, I applaud the decision of members of the Duluth City Council to introduce an ordinance that would restrict the sale of menthol cigarettes to adults-only tobacco stores.

All of Duluth's residents should share in that support - no matter who you are.

Menthol cigarettes were created for one purpose: to make it easier for youth to start smoking. Most youth start smoking by using flavored tobacco products such as menthol because these products mask the harshness of tobacco and numb the smoker's throat. That's why the vast majority of youth smokers start by using flavored cigarettes and why today an estimated 50 percent of high school smokers in Duluth use menthol.

Menthol has been devastating to communities of color and especially the African-American community. Due to the tobacco industry's disproportionate marketing of menthol to our communities, and the easy access to the product, over 80 percent of African Americans who smoke use menthol cigarettes. I honestly believe you'd be hard-pressed not to find someone from the African-American community in Duluth who has not lost a family member, friend, or acquaintance to menthol addiction.

Menthol use is a significant contributor to the No. 1 cause of disease and death in Minnesota: smoking. Whether in taxes and health care dollars - or in heartache - all Duluth residents pay the cost for tobacco use one way or another.

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In other communities that have restricted menthol sales, such as Minneapolis, the tobacco industry and its allies attempted to argue that those restrictions are unfair to communities of color because they would create a major inconvenience to purchasing menthol products. They also argued - as they did in St. Paul, which, like Minneapolis, passed an ordinance restricting menthol sales - that reduced menthol sales at convenience stores might impact employees of color who work at those stores.

Both arguments ring hollow. Their so-called concern is merely cloaking their real intentions, which is the unrestricted ability to market and profit off the disease and death of yet another generation of smokers who will start smoking by using menthol.

Duluth needs to adopt an ordinance to restrict the sales of menthol products to adults-only tobacco stores. Doing that will make it more difficult for youths and their peers to access and use these products - and will help to prevent another generation of our community's youth from facing a life of tobacco addiction.

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Stephan Witherspoon is president of the Duluth branch of the NAACP and is a member of the Lincoln Park Children and Family Collaborative.

Related Topics: DULUTH CITY COUNCIL
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