For Immediate Release
September 4, 2020
Opposition to Proposed Watered-Down Chicago Tobacco Control Ordinance
September 4, 2020 – Chicago, IL – Today the Chicago City Council Committee on Health and Human Relations met to vote on a revised and greatly weakened ordinance to regulate the sale of flavored tobacco products in Chicago. Respiratory Health Association’s President & Chief Executive Officer, Joel Africk, has issued the following statement in opposition to the revised ordinance. This statement was originally given as testimony during the committee meeting.
“Good morning Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee. Respiratory Health Association opposes the watered-down flavored tobacco substitute ordinance. Chicago needs restrictions on all flavored and menthol products, including conventional cigarettes that are killing our vulnerable communities. This ordinance is unanimously opposed by Respiratory Health Association, the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society, and the American Lung Association—the local patient service organizations who have spent the past 30 years advising Chicago government on tobacco control policy.
For almost 20 years—and until today– Chicago has had an unblemished record of getting tough on Big Tobacco. That record has driven smoking rates in Chicago to their lowest rates on record. In each case, the key has been to reject the watered-down versions of laws deemed as more acceptable to the tobacco industry. You see, the Big Tobacco playbook says to oppose tobacco control until it is inevitable, and then water it down as much as possible to preserve cigarette sales. That tactic works because the watered-down ordinances relieve the political pressure to do something more comprehensive. That’s a pretty effective tactic. Watered-down ordinances relieve political pressure. And the legislature can always claim “at least we did something.”
In December 2005, with unanimous support from the service organizations, this Council passed one of the strongest smoke-free laws in the United States, under the leadership of Ald. Ed Smith. The Council did so because it didn’t take a watered-down deal. There were offers of watered-down deals. “No smoking in restaurants but not bars.” “Exclude Chicago’s private clubs.” The watered-down offers kept flowing. But this Council said no, and it passed a comprehensive Chicago smoke-free ordinance that saves an estimated 2500 lives a year. Chicago resisted the same argument being advanced here, that a weaker watered-down ordinance would “do some good” and be a stepping stone on the way to solving a public health problem that is addicting and killing our community in record numbers.
The specific problem with the watered-down substitute ordinance here is that it lets people addicted to vaping simply switch back to flavored cigarettes, including menthol cigarettes, and continue their addiction. You don’t have to take my word for it. That is what Altria, the parent of Philip Morris, acknowledged in July 2020 in the Wall Street Journal. Vaping-only restrictions, like the one before you, have caused sales of conventional cigarettes to increase. It’s like plugging one leak in your pipe and leaving the other leaks un-repaired.
So, who wins and who loses from the passage of this substitute ordinance instead of the alderman’s original ordinance? It’s easy to see who wins. Big Tobacco wins. The tobacco companies get to sell more cigarettes, including flavors and menthol, to Chicagoans. The ordinance gives young people who vape a chance to move to conventional cigarettes. That is what Altria reported. So we know who wins.
And who loses? Who typically loses these things? How about the vulnerable populations with high smoking rates, especially for menthol cigarettes, including young African American Chicagoans, who have already increased smoking regular cigarettes by 30% in the past two years? They need a comprehensive solution to the problem, but instead they will continue to live with increased heart disease, lung disease, and cancer. All because the substitute ordinance doesn’t solve the real problem. Aren’t they the ones who always lose?
That is why this substitute ordinance is opposed by all of the local service organizations. We pick up the pieces from what the tobacco industry lobbyists and some selfish retailers leave behind. We see the patients who are sick. We help people addicted to tobacco break their addiction. And we are trying to end the racial disparities in so many diseases tied to tobacco use. It would be better to pass no ordinance at all, and let the political pressure build for true tobacco control in the City of Chicago.
We ask you to reject the substitute ordinance.”