A little-known anti-tobacco group that gets money from a federally funded parent organization flew members to Chicago to present an award Tuesday to Mayor Rahm Emanuel for his efforts to pass tougher regulations of menthol cigarettes.
Emanuel appeared at a City Hall news conference with officials from the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council to receive the group’s “Visionary Elected Leader Award” for his proposed ordinance that would outlaw the sale of flavored tobacco products within 500 feet of Chicago schools.
The Oakland, Calif., based group receives some of its funding through the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network, which has received almost all of its revenue from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, tax records show.
Carol McGruder, co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, said members of the organization paid for their trip to Chicago in part using a National African American Tobacco Prevention Network grant. That organization received $769,858, or 92 percent of its revenue, from federal funding in 2010 and 2011, the two most recent years tax returns were available.
McGruder said her group hopes to use Emanuel’s work in Chicago as a road map for other cities to enact stronger tobacco regulations.
“Cities are worried about litigation and being sued by the tobacco industry. They have unlimited resources,” McGruder said. “So no city in this climate wants to have to engage the tobacco industry in a lawsuit. So when he sets the standard in what can be done, then other cities, you will see in 2014 there will be many cities that are going to follow.”
McGruder said she has been following Emanuel’s work since he became President Barack Obama’s chief of staff.
Emanuel used the occasion to throw down the gauntlet on his stalled push to set tougher rules for electronic smoking devices. The mayor backs an ordinance to regulate increasingly popular e-cigarettes by banning them from many public places and putting stricter restrictions on their sale.
But the measure ran into opposition from aldermen and did not get a City Council committee vote on Monday.
Some aldermen argued the health effects of the vapor from the electronic smokes hasn’t been determined and added that it would be difficult for business owners to outlaw the devices. Others said adult smokers use e-cigarettes to help them quit conventional smokes.
The mayor characterized the pushback as an effort by “big tobacco companies” to prevent the city from protecting children from products that can get them hooked on nicotine at a young age. “What we’re talking about is don’t let kids get started on e-cigarettes,” Emanuel said. “The whole effort of putting them behind the counter is to treat them like every other tobacco product.”
The mayor has faced opposition from some African-American aldermen to his recent moves to make Chicago a more expensive and difficult place to smoke. An Emanuel plan to raise the city cigarette tax by 75 cents per pack in 2014 was amended to a 50-cent bump after several aldermen, including a number of prominent black City Council members, complained about the additional cost to their constituents and the trouble the price hike would cause for neighborhood stores.
Some African-American aldermen said Emanuel should spend more to crack down on the sale of illegal loose cigarettes in their neighborhoods.
The mayor has seen flagging support among African-American voters, a key support group in his 2011 election. Emanuel closed dozens of schools in mostly African-American neighborhoods this year, and his administration has been dogged by stubbornly high violent crime, which disproportionately takes place in areas of the city with large minority populations.