LETTER: For the health of the community

To the Editor:

I’m proud to have spent my entire career working with the Hmong and southeast Asian communities in St. Paul to prevent them from becoming addicted to tobacco. The East Side Review recently featured a story on Hmong youth at Johnson High who want to prevent their peers from starting smoking.

Smoking rates for Hmong and other Asian youth are at an all-time high compared to just 15 to 20 years ago. Menthol tobacco makes it easier to start smoking. Because of this, menthol is the preferred flavor for 88 percent of African-American smokers and many Hmong smokers.

I recently had the opportunity to attend the public hearings for the City of Saint Paul ordinance to restrict — not ban — the sale of menthol flavored tobacco from local gas stations and corner stores to adult-only tobacco shops. Many business owners dramatically dropped the keys to their businesses on the podium and said these restrictions would be the end of their livelihood. 

It’s a similar refrain heard during the push for Freedom to Breathe, yet these businesses are prolific and thriving in St. Paul. They continue to sell deadly products to their communities, while most of the profits from tobacco sales go directly back to the tobacco industry. 

The restrictions are about the health of our community and will help save future generations from a lifetime of addiction to tobacco, not to mention the billions in health care-related costs. Let’s worry more about saving lives than the profits of the tobacco industry.

Tou T. Lee, St. Paul   


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