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Health officials, the community and victims came together at WSU to discuss the push to ban flavored tobacco

Posted at 6:17 PM, May 17, 2023

DETROIT (WXYZ) — There's a new push to get flavored tobacco products banned in Michigan.

Community leaders, health officials, and victims came together today at Wayne State University to make their voices heard. I was there and got a chance to talk to them about why they say now is the time to act.

"I'm here to tell my story in hopes someone won't end up like me," said Geri Madison, former smoker.

Madison was a smoker of menthol cigarettes for 35 years. She was diagnosed with COPD, and it eventually forced her to give up her job as a mail carrier.

WXYZ’s Mike Duffy asked, “What's it like living with COPD?”

"It's like living with an elephant sitting on your chest," said Madison.

“When you see young people smoking, what goes through your mind?” asked Duffy.

"Please quit. This is no way to live," said Madison.

She tells me she gets winded doing things like picking up a bar of soap or getting a glass of water.

She knows young people are particularly vulnerable to flavored tobacco, but many aren't worried about their own self-preservation.

"They don't see what my family sees. You know it doesn't just affect me and my body and my air and my lungs, but it affects my family," said Madison.

So, Geri is lending her voice, speaking out about the need for change in Michigan.

Minou Jones is Chair of the Detroit-Wayne-Oakland Tobacco-Free Coalition. She's advocating for a state ban on flavored tobacco.

"People who use flavored products, especially menthol, it's easier for them to get hooked and it's harder for them to quit," said Minou Jones.

She also told me the state needs to repeal something called preemption around tobacco laws.

"In 1993, preemption language was slipped into the Michigan tobacco law which means that local municipalities cannot pass laws more stringent than state law," Jones.

Meaning Detroit cannot pass special rules around tobacco.

Jones explains it is also a social justice issue.

"Nationally, African Americans, we lose 45,000 black lives each year. It's the number one killer of African Americans," said Jones.

Dr. Nishtha Sareen is the Medical Director of the Women's Heart Program at Ascension Michigan. She's seen the effects of tobacco use firsthand.

“Do you think that the tobacco companies knew what they were doing?” asked Duffy.

"I do think so," said Dr. Nishtha Sareen Medical Director, Women's Heart Program, Ascension Michigan.

"I can tell you that the fact it started only with Menthol and now we are going on to cotton candy…tells you about the population that's getting more interested in it. It's going from adolescents to younger teens, and that's what's really, really concerning," said Dr. Sareen.

Dr. Sareen explained to me what studies are showing.

"There are two kinds of consequences we talk about; one is the short term that you can see within months or years. And then long term, which you see over decades," said Dr. Sareen.

She said with traditional cigarette smoking, the effects include COPD, emphysema, coronary artery disease, heart attacks and strokes, and lung cancer.

Vaping seems to be different.

"What we find now which is quite interesting is that with the e-cigarettes which we have at the time, you can develop the same heart changes, cardiac changes that we see, short term," said Dr. Sareen.

City Councilman Scott Benson also spoke today. He says the council unanimously passed a resolution in support of banning flavored tobacco and lifting preemption in the law.

We’ll be following to see if this gains any traction in the state legislature.