By Edward Henderson | California Black Media
Carol McGruder is co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC).
Formed in 2008, McGruder says the mission of the AATCLC is to inform and influence the direction of tobacco control as it affects the lives of African American and African Immigrant communities.
The AATCLC works with health jurisdictions, elected officials, community-based organizations, tobacco researchers, activists, faith-based communities, and the media and it plays a key role in elevating the once obscure issue of regulating the sale of menthol and flavored tobacco products to one of national concern and action.
California Black Media asked McGruder to reflect on the past year and share her plans for 2023.
With the work you do advocating for African Americans in California, what was your biggest accomplishment in 2022?
It would be an understatement to say that 2022 has been a banner year for tobacco control and African Americans. Of course, the overwhelming vote in support of passing Proposition 31 is at the top of the list.
Californians went to the polls on November 8th and soundly rejected the tobacco industry’s attempt to undermine the nonpartisan passage of Senate Bill 793. Passed in 2020, Senate Bill 793 made California the second state after Massachusetts to pass legislation to take menthol and all flavored tobacco products off the market. The tobacco industry’s cynical use of California’s proposition system was resoundingly defeated.
The bigger benefit of Senate Bill 793 is when Californians move to enact legislation that protects us, we advance the health and safety of Black children and communities across the country.
Another accomplishment was our lawsuit against the FDA to compel them to do what they were mandated to do in 2008, which was to take menthol tobacco products off the national market. Because of our lawsuit, the FDA has finally initiated steps to remove these products. They are in the second stage of the rule-making process, and we look forward to having a national sales ban in place in the next few years. In the meantime, we keep plugging away at local and state levels.
What did you find most challenging over the past year?
My biggest challenge was juggling all of the balls of 2022. We worked on local, state, and national fronts and fought hard to get here and make it count. I am proud to see that we did.
What are you most looking forward to in 2023?
I am feeling so grateful and looking forward to many things in 2023. In our mission to save the 45,000 Black souls who die each year from tobacco-induced diseases, we will continue to support cities and states across the nation as they adopt and implement policies to stop this cycle of death through nicotine addiction. We will continue to be a resource for our community as we remind Californians that the responsibility of the tobacco ban is placed on retailers, not individuals.
We are also looking forward to working with Los Angeles Madam Mayor Karen Bass who has supported us and worked with us throughout her political career. Her hard-fought win to become mayor of Los Angeles couldn’t have come at a better time for our movement and state. We know that she “gets it”, and profoundly understands the inter-relatedness of these issues. As we move forward to implement the removal of menthol and flavored tobacco products in our Black communities, Los Angeles will play a pivotal role.
What’s the biggest challenge Black Californians will face next year?
I am fresh back from Cuba where I had the opportunity to study their public health system. I was inspired by how they have done so much with so little. They have eradicated illiteracy. And it is safer for a Black baby to be born in Cuba, than in the United States. We face so many challenges, but our biggest challenge is us. Rededicating ourselves to our families and communities. Putting the health, education, and well-being of our families and communities first. Let’s look forward to 2023 with power and optimism. Bring IT!
What’s your wish for this holiday season?
I wish that we all get some rest and come back in 2023 ready to move our agenda forward. While we face many challenges, we also have so many opportunities to begin … again.