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Commentary: New York state absolutely right to ban menthol tobacco products

Naz Khan
Feb. 23, 2023

No comparison between tobacco and cannabis due to deaths related to tobacco use

As a practicing family physician, I have seen firsthand the disease and suffering caused by tobacco use. Gov. Kathy Hochul is absolutely right to call for New York state to end the sale of flavored tobacco products and increase the state’s cigarette tax by $1.

We know that if we can take away the appeal of flavorings like mint, menthol, and candy and fruit and make these products less affordable, we will reduce the use of these deadly and highly addictive tobacco products by children, whom the tobacco industry aggressively targets as “replacement smokers.”

Big Tobacco has been using flavors like menthol to insidiously target our children for decades — particularly in communities of color, among LGBTQ individuals and those of lesser income. Flavors like menthol are easier to start due to menthol’s cooling anesthetic effects, and harder to quit.

Some have argued that it is contradictory for the state to restrict the sale of flavored tobacco products at the same time that it is legalizing the sale of cannabis to adults. There is no comparison here between the morbidity and mortality caused by tobacco use vs. cannabis. Tobacco use leads to nearly 500,000 deaths each year in this country, including over 28,000 per year in New York state. And because of the nicotine in these deadly products, tobacco is highly addictive.

There is currently a state regulation out for comment that addresses the marketing and packaging of adult-use cannabis, but not its use of flavors. I urge the state to take a similar approach with smoked or vaped cannabis by prohibiting the use of menthol, candy and fruity flavorings in these products as well.

California and Massachusetts have already enacted policies to end the sale of flavored tobacco. New York must step up if it is to remain a leader in fighting tobacco and promoting health and social justice. The governor’s tobacco proposals will save lives.

Naz Khan is chair of the New York State Academy of Family Physicians’ Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Commission.