New York called to include menthol in flavored tobacco ban

New York lawmakers could ban flavored tobacco products amid growing concern over the tobacco and vaping industry’s use of flavorings to attract young people and African Americans, though it’s unclear whether a push to ban menthol cigarettes will succeed.

The Democratic Senate Majority plans to pass a ban on the sale of flavored e-cigarettes and also smokeless flavored tobacco products as soon as next week, a Democratic Senate spokesman said Monday. Senate Democrats also plan to move ahead on seven other bills including a study on the long-term health effects of e-cigarette use and laws preventing tobacco ads and new tobacco stores from popping up near schools.

It’s less clear how lawmakers will act on Democratic Sen. Brad Hoylman’s bill to ban all flavored tobacco products - including menthol cigarettes.

The exclusion of menthol flavorings from tobacco restrictions at the state and federal levels has long drawn criticism from public health and civil rights groups who say the tobacco industry has marketed menthol cigarettes to African Americans for decades.

“It always seemed very normal and accessible so I never really questioned it,” Albany high school senior Hassani Hamilton, 17, said. “What I’ve come to realize is these products are deadly and their rampant use in my community is no accident.”

New York state health officials issued a ban on most flavored e-cigarettes last fall in response to worries that vaping may cause illnesses and that its use is growing among teenagers who say they’re attracted by flavorings.

But the ban’s exclusion of menthol and tobacco flavorings drew scrutiny from a state judge in her decision to continue to block it Friday. The ban was initially blocked last fall after the vaping industry sued to stop New York from enforcing emergency regulations banning the sale of most flavored e-cigarettes.