Kayla Griffin, president of the Cleveland Branch of NAACP, is tired of waiting on Cleveland City Council to take action on legislation that would ban the flavored tobacco products that are marketed in Black communities. 

“This piece of legislation will save lives,” said Griffin, who is one of the faces of The Campaign to End Tobacco Targeting Cleveland RTA bus ads. “It’s time for Cleveland to lead.” 

Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb proposed a ban on flavored tobacco products in an effort to decrease the smoking rate in the city. Cleveland City Council introduced the legislation at the public health department’s request in February. But after hearing from local convenience stores and tobacco sellers worried about a “devastating loss of sales,” some members of City Council have pushed back against the proposed ban. 

“When it comes time to pass legislation, we always worry about the loss of economic profit in the city,” Griffin said. “When will we stop putting profit over people?”  

Fruit, chocolate and alcohol flavors would be banned

The legislation would ban the sale of flavored tobacco and require retailers to obtain a license from the city to sell other tobacco products. The measure defines flavored tobacco as any tobacco product made to taste or smell like menthol, fruit, chocolate, alcohol or a variety of other flavors. 

Griffin spoke at an event organized by the Campaign to End Tobacco Targeting – Cleveland, a coalition of doctors, city officials, faith leaders and community advocates. The group says tobacco advertising targets Black communities and youth in the city by promoting the sale of cigarettes at corner stores near schools. 

Dr. David Margolius, director of the Cleveland Department of Public Health, suggested finding new ways to engage community residents on the tobacco ban issue and urge local officals to take action.  

An estimated 35% of Cleveland adults smoke, one of the highest rates in the nation, according to the Prevention Research Center for Healthy Neighborhoods. Margolius said it is also the leading cause of death in Cleveland. 

Margolius said that more than 600 convenience stores in the city sell menthol cigarettes and that nearly 76% of Cleveland public schools are within 1,000 feet of a tobacco store. 

“We have the leverage [with this legislation] to ensure that we close the 20-year life-expectancy gap [between Black and white residents] in our city and ensure Cleveland communities are healthy and thriving,” Margolius said. 

Cuyahoga County Council Member Meredith Turner said there have been conversations to consider a countywide retail flavored tobacco ban. Turner told Signal Cleveland that municipalities have different levels of enforcement and she anticipates local and statewide opposition to local tobacco bans. 

“We want to protect the next generation of kids,” Turner said. “These are early conversations happening at the county, but this is just another way we can think about investing in the health of our residents and community.” 

NAACP plans to press council president on delay

NAACP’s Griffin told Signal Cleveland she plans to meet with City Council President Blaine Griffin (no relation) to understand why the tobacco legislation has stalled. She said Griffin has been a public supporter of the proposal but has yet to push council to vote on the measure. 

I want to understand what the concerns are and if there is any way that we can mitigate against it,” Kayla Griffin said. “If there is no mitigation, then the call will be to step up and lead with courage and make sure that we’re doing right by the people as opposed to the corporations that are funding and getting a profit off of the advertisement.” 

Griffin and Margolius told Signal Cleveland that while they aren’t confident that a vote on the measure would go forward by the end of the year,  they believe that council will decide the right action to take with this proposed ban. 

You know, this issue isn’t going away,” Margolius said. “As long as [smoking] is the number one cause of death in Cleveland, this is going to be the number one issue.”

Health Reporter (she/her)
Candice, a Cleveland Documenter since 2020, has been a freelance writer whose reporting and digital media work have appeared in The Daily Beast, VICE, Cleveland Magazine and elsewhere. She has written about health, equity and social justice.