The Westchester County Board of Legislators passed a bill that would ban the retail sale and distribution of flavored tobacco products in the county.
If signed by County Executive George Latimer, the legislation will be one of the most comprehensive in the state by banning all tobacco flavors, including menthol, mint and wintergreen.
Legislator Williams Johnson, sponsor of the bill and chairman of the Committee on Health, said this was a positive step for public health in Westchester County.
“It is good policy and protects the vulnerable from continuing to be exploited by Big Tobacco,” he said.
“We seized an opportunity to shield our citizens, especially children, from the challenges of nicotine addiction and related health risks,” Johnson said.
Enforcement of the ban will rest solely with the county Department of Health, according to a board spokesperson, and not by any other agency, especially not those responsible for criminal law enforcement.
There are no criminal penalties to individuals for using flavored tobacco products, however, fines will be issued to businesses found out of compliance.
Kevin O’Flaherty, director of advocacy for the Northeast Region for Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said the landmark legislation will save lives by protecting children from the deadly consequences of smoking and promises to advance health equity throughout the county.
“By taking flavored tobacco products off shelves, Westchester County will help to reverse decades of racially unjust practices by Big Tobacco,” he said. “Through aggressive marketing campaigns across the nation, including targeted communities of color in the County, Big Tobacco has long preyed on Black communities as a key demographic for menthol-flavored cigarettes, which are uniquely addictive, hard to quit and cheap.”
Members of the New York Association of Convenience Stores voiced its opposition to the retail ban.
The association said there are currently more than 445 county businesses that sell flavored tobacco products. In Westchester, 40 percent of all cigarettes sold are menthol and 84 percent of all smokeless tobacco is flavored.
If the proposed ban goes into effect, the county will lose $1.8 million per year in tax revenue, the association said, and the elimination of hundreds of jobs will also adversely impact the Westchester economy.
The local law will take effect six months after enactment.
A spokeswoman for Latimer told Patch the county executive has not indicated whether he will sign the legislation. He intends to review it when it is received.
If Latimer does not sign or veto it, it will go into effect 10 days after the Legislature passed it.