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MN House Panel Advances Flavored Tobacco Ban

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According to anti-tobacco advocates, 85% of Black smokers use menthol cigarettes, which have been cited as a "predatory product" in communities of color. (Adobe Stock)
According to anti-tobacco advocates, 85% of Black smokers use menthol cigarettes, which have been cited as a "predatory product" in communities of color. (Adobe Stock)
February 18, 2021

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- A proposal to ban the sale of all flavored tobacco products in Minnesota has resurfaced in the Legislature.

House Bill 904, which cleared a House committee Wednesday, comes with renewed backing of those wanting to address health disparities across the state.

The measure would prohibit retailers from selling flavored tobacco and related products, including menthol cigarettes.

Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, the bill's sponsor, said now is the time to restrict items that have been heavily marketed in communities of color.

"Let's put the health of our kids and the health of our Black brothers and sisters ahead of Big Tobacco profits," Frazier urged.

Supporters also said the move would address the dangers of vaping among teens and young adults.

At this week's hearing, there was opposition from those representing retailers, who say the ban would push buyers into other states while creating a dangerous underground market.

Laura Smith, spokesperson for the nonprofit group ClearWay Minnesota and Minnesotans for a Smoke Free Generation, countered in light of last year's racial reckoning and the pandemic, there's more urgency to address health disparities facing marginalized communities, and reducing tobacco dependency would be a big help.

"We think that should be a huge impetus for getting this done this session," Smith asserted.

Late last year, the Minnesota House Select Committee on Racial Justice recommended action as part of a broader effort to eliminate disparities.

Meanwhile, more than a dozen Minnesota cities have enacted their own restrictions for selling flavored tobacco.

Mike Moen, Public News Service - MN