September 30, 2022

The Westchester County Board of Legislators has a choice: It can bow to pressure from out-of-town, high-paid lobbyists who care nothing about our community or itsupport local minority-owned businesses that provide essential products, services, jobs and taxes to our neighborhoods.
On Sept. 13, the board’s Health Committee introduced a law that will prohibit local tobacco retail establishments owned mainly by first-generation Americans and minorities from selling flavored tobacco like menthol cigarettes, wintergreen moist snuff, and vanilla pipe tobacco. The state already banned flavored e-cigarettes in 2020.
Why is the health committee pushing the board to take such a radical step when teen smoking has essentially been eradicated (.38% report frequent use) and adult use of traditional, combustible cigarettes is at historic lows? I’ll tell you why. Outside influences with cash to burn are engaging local organizations across the country to pressure local lawmakers like our county board to pass legislation that pits neighbor against neighbor unnecessarily. Their tactics include pointing to outdated data about tobacco usage rates, raising alarms about already unauthorized tobacco flavors, and rehashing arguments about old cigarette marketing campaigns from the 1960s and 1970s. The result? Mom-and-pop brick-and-mortar tobacco retailers who’ve raised their families, employed local residents and contributed to our communities face a real threat to their businesses. Suddenly they will be forced to throw away and stop selling products that were once legal in their stores and yet are still legal in stores just across the border in Connecticut. These businesses will be devastated.
It’s unnecessary, and here’s why. Stopping the legal sales of flavored tobacco products at the local cash register won’t prevent people from gaining access to them from other sources. Adults and teens simply have to go to the internet, where online retailers stand by, ready to make a sale — legally or otherwise. For example, one social media channel that is especially popular with teens is scrambling to shut down accounts offering to ship flavored vape products straight to teens’ doors, in discreet packaging right under mom’s and dad’s noses. No ID is required. In this recent article, “It’s easier than ever to buy and sell illegal vapes on TikTok,” the reporter writes, “…TikTok is facing its latest moderation challenge: anonymous accounts that promise easy access to disposable vapes, online, as ‘black market’ on the platform burgeons.”
If the health committee’s goal is to improve health by preventing and ending the use of tobacco by teens, then they should focus on stopping illegal sales by unscrupulous individuals on the internet, on the street corner, and in the family living room.
The only thing Westchester County legislators will accomplish by passing this amendment is removing legal and regulated sales of flavored tobacco products away from local, minority-owned businesses that have invested heavily in age-verification technology, staff training, and jobs for their communities.
Tobacco product sales and the sales of things that go with them like fuel and food make up 40% of the local convenience stores’ business. Stripping them of their ability to legally sell a product while ignoring the illicit sales of the very same products online or on the streets shows city leaders are uninformed on the issue and willing to push many Westchester County business owners to the brink of closure.
Kinjal Patel is a business owner and resident in Westchester County.

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