The Washington, D.C., City Council on Tuesday voted 8-5 to approve a bill to ban flavored tobacco products, including those containing menthol.
The menthol portion of the ban may have made the vote closer and more contentious than it might have otherwise been. Indeed, a vote a few minutes earlier to recommit the legislation failed narrowly 7-6.
Phil Mendelson, the chairman of the council, said he would have had “no problem” with the bill had it banned other flavored tobacco products but felt that the council had not had enough time to vet the menthol issue. Mendelson voted no.
Councilman Robert White also voted no. He worried that the menthol ban would “create a black market for menthol [cigarettes], and African Americans would get the product in Maryland or Virginia.”
Supporters viewed it as a public health problem that affects black people disproportionately. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, African American adults have the highest percentage of menthol cigarette use of any racial group.
“This is a matter of individual liberty versus public health, but on this issue, I side with public health,” said Councilwoman Christina Henderson, who voted yes.
The push against menthol cigarettes has gained steam after the Food and Drug Administration announced in April that it would impose a ban on menthol-flavored tobacco products within the next year.
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The measure now heads to Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser. Bowser has not yet indicated whether she will sign the bill into law, but in the past, she has approved legislation that increased the smoking age to 21 and regulated electronic cigarettes like traditional ones.