SACRAMENTO, Calif. — In 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill to ban the sale of most flavored tobacco, including menthol cigarettes. It’s what helps soothe the irritation in your throat when you smoke, making it easier to become addicted.
The law is on hold because enough people signed a petition to put it on the 2022 ballot.
Smoking-related illnesses are a leading cause of death in the African-American community. Now, community leaders are gearing up for a big fight in 2022 because their opponent, the tobacco industry, has deep pockets and a lot of influence.
Donna Deloach was 13 when she first remembers tobacco vans driving through her South Central Los Angeles neighborhood
"They was giving out free cigarettes to us," Deloach said. "Free packs of cigarettes."
13 quickly turned into 50.
"I use to smoke them back to back," she said. "And I was hooked on the menthol, Newport menthol."
The mother of three learned she had COPD, and her kidneys were failing.
"I went on (dialysis in) in 2008," she said. "On February 9th, 2013, I'll never forget it. They called me on the phone to come in and get a kidney. I was crying. I said, 'Oh my god, are you serious?' Yes, I said, 'Oh my goodness!' You know, I never picked up cigarettes ever again."
Now, she joins in on cultural discussions like the one hosted by the Campaign to Protect California Kids, talking about how tobacco use disproportionately affects the Black community.
"Through their own internal documents that have been revealed over these decades through litigation, all of their plans, marketing plans, and strategies are all there in their own words of how they went into our neighborhoods to really addict us," Carol McGruder said.
McGruder is the co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership. With the help of the American Heart Association, Lung Association, and more, she said they helped pass the bill to ban most flavored tobacco products in the Golden State.
"We got it signed, and then the (tobacco) industry before the ink was dry on Governor Newsom's signature, they began collecting signatures to put a referendum on the ballot," McGruder said.
Now, both her and Deloach say it's game time.
"We intend to fight this thing out to the last day," McGruder said, "and to get this thing in to have it hold and to have it be implemented the way that it should have been on January 1."
"They have the power. They have the money. They have everything," Deloach said. "So really, you’re just playing with people’s lives. That’s all I can say. You’re playing with people’s lives."