The new head of Brooklyn’s Democratic Party is trying to light a fire under Speaker Corey Johnson and the rest of the City Council to pass long-stalled legislation to ban menthol cigarettes.
Assemblywoman Rodneyse Bichotte, who says she lost her father to cancer due to a menthol cigarette addiction, is featured in a new social media video-ad campaign kicking off Tuesday aimed at pressuring Johnson to bring the bill — which has support from more than two-thirds of the Council — to the floor for a vote.
Johnson is eyeing a 2021 mayoral run, and Bichotte, as chair of the Kings County Democratic Committee, will play a major role in who the group endorses.
Bichotte starts out the 30-second commercial by noting her dad, former jazz saxophonist great Marcel Bichotte, smoked menthol cigs “day and night” before dying in 1993 at the age of 73.
“Every day in New York that we do nothing, another father dies from smoking menthols,” she then says. “It’s time the New York City Council stands up to Big Tobacco. Ban menthol now!”
The ad is being distributed citywide to Facebook and Instragam users as part of a larger multi-million dollar ad campaign aimed at prohibiting flavored smokes throughout the Big Apple. It includes a link: “Click to tell the Council: No more menthol in NY.”
Two other ads will also be released featuring similar stories by other New Yorkers who say they lost parents to diseases related to menthol cigarette addiction.
“This is an epidemic. It’s time Council Speaker Johnson protects communities of color and restricts the sale of menthol cigarettes. Speaker Johnson: call a vote,” said Andre Richardson, of Flavors Hook Kids NYC, a coalition of groups including the state NAACP and American Heart Association that is behind the ad campaign.
Johnson and the Council approved legislation to ban the sale of e-flavored cigarettes last November. However, the speaker has declined to bring Bronx Councilman Fernando Cabrera’s bill to ban menthol-flavored tobacco sales in the city to a vote on the floor because of concerns pushed by the Rev. Al Sharpton, whose National Action Network rakes big money donations from the top-selling US menthol-cigarette manufacturer, RJ Reynolds.
Like Sharpton, Johnson has said he’s concerned it could create “another Eric Garner situation,” referring to the Staten Island man who died in 2014 after being taken down by a cop amid a dispute over selling illegal smokes.
However, the NAACP, Bichotte and many other influential black leaders have come out in support of a ban. They blame menthol tobacco for being a leading cause of African Americans getting hooked on smoking. A 2016 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 9 out of 10 black smokers prefer menthols.
A Johnson spokesperson said the “bill is going through the legislative process” but declined to elaborate.