San Leandro bans sales of menthol cigarettes

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SAN LEANDRO — San Leandro has joined several other cities in banning the sale of menthol cigarettes.

The City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved the ban, which takes effect in January 2023.

“Big Tobacco tries to squeeze every last dime they can from people,” Vice Mayor Pete Ballew said. “I have zero issues supporting this. … I’m proud to be the legacy piece that continues to support public health in San Leandro, especially for our youth and all residents.”

Many spoke at the council’s meeting in support of the ban, including resident Dennis Ducey, who volunteers with the American Cancer Society.

“I’ve seen firsthand the damage and death from cancer and related diseases,” Ducey said. “And as we know, tobacco is cancer’s ally. It does cancer’s dirty work by hooking children from middle school on up.”

Any kind of cigarette comes with harm, but studies have found that menthol in cigarettes likely leads people to experiment with smoking and to have a harder time quitting once they start, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

This ban follows a trend found in several Bay Area cities, including San Francisco and San Jose, which banned the sale of menthol cigarettes beginning June 30. In 2020, Hayward and Oakland prohibited the sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes. Alameda County prohibits the sale of menthol and other flavored  tobacco, in the unincorporated area,

The City Council’s vote follows a roundtable forum it held last year with health advocates and tobacco retailers.

San Leandro prohibited the sale of other flavored tobacco products in 2018.

“This minty extract makes starting smoking easier and quitting harder,” Councilmember Victor Aguilar said. “We should never allow a chemical that is specifically targeted to a population that increases death, no matter who it is. … If I can save one life, I know I did my job as a public servant to push forward on this ban.”

Aguilar said tobacco companies often target communities of color. The Food and Drug Administration found that tobacco companies with menthol brands target African Americans with advertising in magazines and outdoor menthol ads in African American neighborhoods.

Other minority groups are affected as well. The Centers for Disease Control write that tobacco companies advertise at gay pride events and depict tobacco use as a normal part of LGBT life. According to the CDC, 36% of LGBT smokers use menthol cigarettes, while only 29% of heterosexual smokers do.

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