The DC Council voted yesterday to end the sales of menthol cigarettes and other flavored tobacco products in the District, following the Food and Drug Administration’s call for a ban on menthol across the country earlier this year. With this ban, DC is joining Massachusetts and cities in California and elsewhere; there are similar bills under consideration in Maryland and Virginia.
This is the second time that the council has voted to ban flavored tobacco products, so the legislation will now go to Mayor Muriel Bowser, who’s expected to sign the law. However the vote wasn’t unanimous—the group had mostly agreed to ban flavored tobacco products before extending the legislation to include menthol cigarettes, a move that faced opposition due to the question of increased criminalizing and policing of Black smokers.
Out of Black Americans who smoke cigarettes, the CDC found that more than 75 percent use menthol cigarettes; critics of these bans believe they could do more harm than good. While on one hand, the FDA and supportive lawmakers are aiming to reduce health risks for Black Americans associated with smoking, many others view the move as a dangerous additional opportunity for police to target these communities. DC legislators amended the bill to say that “the law does not give city police the authority to act on their own to enforce the tobacco ban,” according to the Washington Post. Hookah bars with prior approval from the city are an exception to the ban.