September 29, 2016
By Jennifer Bihm
Health advocates and political leaders in the African American community, joined efforts to push through anti smoking Prop 56 on September 23, during a press conference held in front of the Sentinel office on Crenshaw. Assemblyman Reggie Jones Sawyer (D-Los Angeles) and LA Community College Trustee Sydney Kamlager spoke earnestly about tobacco’s serious impact on African American communities and the health of all Californians. They were joined by representatives from the American Heart Association, California NAACP and the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council.
“Our communities are being targeted” said Jones-Sawyer.
“African Americans smoke more and die more because of the tobacco industry’s deadly products and marketing tactics. Prop 56 is a crucial step towards making our communities healthier.”
A 2013 U.S. Food and Drug Administration report shows that while smoking rates among African Americans are lower than national levels, this ethnic group suffers disproportionately from smoking-caused chronic and preventable diseases. Each year, approximately 45,000 African Americans die from a smoking-caused illness. An estimated 1.6 million African Americans alive today, who are now under the age of 18, will become regular smokers; and about 500,000 of these will die prematurely from a tobacco-related disease.
The initiative proposes that a $2.00 tax be added to cigarettes and vaping products. Meanwhile, giant tobacco companies and other Prop 56 opponents are using their resources to try to stop it from going through, advertising it as a “special interest tax grab”. Instead of helping people to quit smoking like it claims, most of the revenue generated from the interest will go directly to health insurance companies, opponents say.
Proponents firmly disagree and say that, is simply not true.
“In every state that has raised the tobacco tax, smoking rates have decreased,” said Carol McGruder, Co-Chair for the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council. “Big tobacco is only worried about their bottom line in California and could care less about the well-being of our children and communities.”
Nearly 17,000 California kids begin smoking every year, proponents say, and one-third of them will eventually die from tobacco-related illnesses. By generating billions of dollars for tobacco prevention and education with a $2 per pack user fee, Prop 56 will save lives by discouraging a new generation of kids from becoming addicted to tobacco.
The money will go toward things like education and offsetting costs incurred by Medi-Cal from tobacco related cases.
“The money raised through this initiative will do even more good, by helping us cure tobacco-related diseases that kill so many Californians,” said Laphonza Butler, President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) California, who also attended the conference.
“The new protections against secondhand smoke in schools and workplaces will be particularly beneficial to communities of color in our state. 2016 will go down as the year California stood up to this predatory industry.”
“Tobacco companies have poured millions of dollars into advertising to keep youth and communities of color addicted to their products,” said Kamlager.
“Whether it’s with menthol advertising or new candy-flavored e-cigarettes, they find new ways to target these communities. We see what they are doing and can’t stand by and let them get away with it.”