Alderman, trying to quit, wants city to ban menthol-flavored tobacco products

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Ald. Ray Lopez wants to ban the sale of menthol cigarettes and other menthol-flavored tobacco products; some say the menthol makes those products even more addictive. | Getty Images

An alderman trying desperately to kick the habit proposed a citywide ban Wednesday on tobacco products, accessories and liquid nicotine with “a characterizing flavor of menthol.”

“Having tried to quit more than a dozen times, I know intimately how addictive they are,” said Ald. Ray Lopez (15th), who has smoked only menthol cigarettes.

“The trend seems to be nationally to ban menthol-flavored anything,” Lopez added. “Chicago can be a leader and get ahead of the curve by doing it now.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel has crusaded against smoking for much of his professional life and for nearly eight years as mayor.

Locally, those efforts already have included: the nation’s highest cigarette tax; banning e-cigarettes wherever smoking is prohibited; moving cigarettes behind the counter of retail stores; banning the sale of flavored tobacco products within 500 feet of schools; and taxing e-cigarettes.

The City Council also raised Chicago’s smoking age to 21, slapped a $6 million tax on cigars, roll-your-own tobacco and smokeless tobacco, and banned coupons and discounts. Big Tobacco uses those deals to drive down the price to lure teens to take up the habit.

Emanuel salvaged the higher smoking age only after cracking down on illegal tobacco sales in an apparent attempt to appease African-American aldermen concerned about the illegal sale of single cigarettes, known as “loosies.”

Just this week, the mayor added further fuel to his campaign against electronic cigarettes by filing a lawsuit against online retailers he claimed are illegally selling the products to minors.

Why, then, must the City Council do even more?

“I started smoking a menthol cigarette when I was 16 years old. I’m 40. It’s been a part of my life ever since. I’m going on four weeks without a cigarette,” Lopez said, but he added:

“It’s not about me. It’s about our neighborhoods. Particularly in black and brown communities, menthols, loosies, whatever you want to call them, are very much prevalent, addictive and destructive to our health. We need to take a concrete step to put an end to this scourge.”

Also during Wednesday’s action-packed City Council meeting:

• Lopez joined Finance Chairman Edward Burke (14th) in proposing a citywide ban on single-serve plastic straws or plastic beverage stirrers.

The straw ban was one of three non-binding referendums placed on the ballot by aldermen in what many saw as an attempt to crowd out a binding question on mayoral term limits proposed by former Gov. Pat Quinn.

The advisory referendum passed by a nearly 11-percentage-point margin. But North and South Side residents were divided on the issue. And environmental advocates have warned that the question oversimplifies a rather complicated issue.

• Ald. Milly Santiago (31st) introduced an ordinance empowering employees from the Department of Streets and Sanitation to write $50-to-$500 citations against people who refuse to pick up after their pets on the public way or in public places.

• Emanuel introduced a five-year, $1.4 billion housing plan that, he claimed, would create 40,000 additional residential units. The plan would expand affordable housing assistance programs and anti-gentrification tools and enhance opportunities for home ownership in a city struggling with an affordable housing crisis.

• Approved Emanuel’s appointment of Richard C. Ford II as fire commissioner.

• Signed off on a new agreement between Hilton Management LLC and the city to operate the O’Hare Hilton, paving the way for an overhaul of the hotel across the roadway from Terminal 1. The new deal is expected to generate $17 million in additional revenue that will be pumped back into O’Hare.

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