On October 2, 2023, the Campaign to End Tobacco Targeting hosted its second Faith Leaders Luncheon. Located at the Hilton Cleveland Downtown, it was a day of advocacy and awareness about the harms of flavored tobacco products (including menthol), how the tobacco industry targeted Black communities and youth, and the call for faith leaders to collaborate with members of the campaign to end the sale of these products in the city. The Campaign to End Tobacco consists of many local organizations such as the Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition, the American Heart Association, Birthing Beautiful Communities, and the Cleveland Department of Public Health. Sixty-seven individuals attended the luncheon as Rohnesha Horne emceed the event.
Fifty groups already support the ban in Cleveland
James Meerdink, Community Advocacy Director of the American Heart Association, gave a brief overview of the campaign. He stated that over 50 groups are supporting the legislation, but they still need help from faith and youth groups. He also displayed two vaping products (electronic smoking devices), one that resembled an Apple watch and another that was shaped like a football. The tobacco industry makes these items look appealing to youth so they can start to vape. Dr. David Margolius, Director of the Cleveland Department of Public Health, explained how are negatively impacting Clevelanders.
He listed the following facts:
- Tobacco is the number one cause of death in Cleveland.
- The Cleveland smoking rate is three times higher than the United States.
- As the smoking rate decreased in some cities in the US over the last 20 years (from 20 percent to 11 percent), the smoking rate in Cleveland increased (from 30 percent to 35 percent).
Tobacco is the number one cause of death in Cleveland.
Following Dr. Margolius, Bishop Tony Minor gave powerful remarks concerning this issue. He described how ending flavored tobacco products is a movement, and like the Montgomery bus boycott, individuals must commit for the long haul. After the viewing of Black Lives/ Black Lungs, Jazmin Long, President and Chief Executive Officer of Birthing Beautiful Communities, explained that smoking affects infants and mothers as smoking is linked to stillbirth and prematurity. “We talk about Cleveland as a world-class city. We can’t be a world-class city with a 35 percent smoking rate,” she stated.
Columbus used data and research to support a ban on the sale of flavored tobacco products
Former Mayor of Columbus Michael B. Coleman was the keynote speaker. He gave a motivational and informative speech about becoming tobacco free and his efforts to ban flavored tobacco products in Columbus. Former Mayor Coleman used to be addicted to menthol cigarettes and he recalled how he could not wait to grab free packs of cigarettes. He also described how the tobacco industry targeted the Black community in Jet Magazine through ads and the Kool Jazz Festival in Cincinnati. “With every puff, I was dying,” he stated. After 30 years of addiction, he quit smoking after being admitted to a hospital due to an infection in his throat.
Furthermore, Former Mayor Coleman gave a brief presentation about a research project he and his colleagues completed to convince community stakeholders to ban flavored tobacco products (including menthol) in Columbus. He presented maps which show the correlation between the retailers who sell the products, number of schools in the city, high concentrations of Black neighborhoods, and high prevalence of diseases because of smoking tobacco products (asthma, heart disease, COPD, diabetes). Many retailers are located within a half of a mile of schools. For example, Columbus North International School had 15 retailers within a half mile. Moreover, in neighborhoods where Black people live in Columbus, there was a higher prevalence of diseases since there are numerous retailers who sell tobacco products in those areas.
This is us working together to declare that if racism is indeed a public health crisis, and we know that it is, then the proliferation of poison in our communities is definitely part of that declaration.
The call to action
“This is us working together to declare that if racism is indeed a public health crisis, and we know that it is, then the proliferation of poison in our communities is definitely part of that declaration,” said Yvonka Hall, as she shared her remarks with a call to action. As the executive director of the Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition, she urged members of the audience to support the movement by writing letters to the editors, participating in press conferences, and speaking in public hearings. She encouraged audience members to sign postcard pledges, which were placed at each seat and informational materials. To learn more about the campaign, you can find it here. The Center for Community Solutions will continue to follow the progress of this legislation.