BRIDGEPORT — In 2019 Connecticut’s largest city raised the age limit for smoking from 18 to 21, and the entire state followed a few months later.
Now local officials and activists are hoping history repeats itself as they pursue banning the sale of all flavored tobacco products in Bridgeport while also lobbying the General Assembly in Hartford to pass similar legislation.
“What happened with ‘Tobacco 21,’ it coincided with what the state was doing at the same time,” said City Council President Aidee Nieves Thursday in an interview. “This is like the second version of that.”
On Friday at 11 a.m. Nieves, state Sen. Marilyn Moore, D-Bridgeport, Greater Bridgeport NAACP President Rev. Stanley Lord and representatives from Bridgeport Hospital and the American Cancer Society will host an 11 a.m. teleconference to promote the effort.
Then Nieves will introduce the local ban at Monday’s regular council meeting and ask her colleagues — all Democrats like herself — to vote to forward it to the ordinance committee for consideration and a public hearing.
Should it pass, supporters said, Bridgeport would be the first Connecticut municipality to enact such a restriction.
Nieves, Moore and Lord all emphasized the importance of the effort to protect young people and communities of color.
“As a mother and grandmother, I understand that it is our responsibility to protect our children’s health,” Moore said in a statement. “Manufacturers of flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, in addition to e-cigarettes (vaping), use sweeteners to make these products attractive to our children. … These kid-friendly flavors are addictive and the products they sweeten are deadly and can impact a child’s health for their entire life.”
And Lord said that tobacco has been “hyper-marketed” to the African American community with “devastating” health effects that are even more pronounced during the COVID-19 pandemic because that virus attacks the lungs.
Nieves admitted that she has vaped during social occasions and has first hand experience with the immediate pleasure and subsequent ill-effects.
“These flavored items, they are addictive. I love the mango-flavored vaping pen. It relaxes me,” she said. “But the compounding effect after two or three days my lungs are killing me and I’m like, ‘Why am I doing this to myself?’ Now I really try to stay away from that stuff. … And the health risk from these types of habits have been more prevalent with the onset of the coronavirus.”
Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont initially expressed support for a statewide ban on flavored vaping products in late 2019, but when the global pandemic struck Connecticut last March, reducing the 2020 legislative session, many other issues were put on hold. Neighboring states, including New York, have enacted such bans.
Several bills targeting tobacco products and flavored tobacco products were introduced this month at the start of the General Assembly’s current session. One of the key sponsors has been Democratic state Sen. Saud Anwar, a physician from South Windsor and vice chairman of the legislature’s public health committee.
“Many of the children are facing life-long addictions and we must do something,” Anwar told Hearst Connecticut Media earlier in January.
But Nieves also acknowledged the potential economics of a ban. She noted that a statewide prohibition would be the ideal so that it is not only small businesses in Bridgeport that would be impacted.
“What’s to say our residents are not going to go to our neighboring communities — Fairfield, Monroe, Trumbull — and pick up stuff at their smoke shops,” she said. “This is not an urban against suburban issue. This is a whole issue, statewide. … The only way this can have real teeth to it is we get the support from our state delegation and both houses (of the General Assembly).”