Photo: Max Parrott/QNS

A plushy Big Tobacco monster showed up at Councilman Francisco Moya’s district office in Corona on Oct. 31 to scare him into voting for two bills that would restrict the sale of flavored e-cigarettes and menthols. 

The Halloween stunt was organized by Flavors Hook Kids NYC, a coalition dedicated to pushing the regulatory bills. Campaign manager Andre Richardson arrived with a group of youth leaders, activists in spooky masks and an anthropomorphic cigarette with baskets filled with candy, menthol cigarettes and lemonade-flavored vape pods. 

“It does not have to be Halloween for Big Tobacco to scare our kids,” said Richardson. 

The advocates said that they targeted Moya as part of a long-term effort to confront all of the council members that have not signed onto the bills. At the moment that the press conference was ending, however, Moya stopped by and, after giving the activists candy and inviting them into his office, he came out behind both pieces of legislation. 

“We had a great conversation and we’re all in alignment,” said Moya. “I’m going to be voting and signing on to the bills, which was the intent anyways. They were going to come into do a presentation to the [Black, Asian and Latino Caucus] and so we were just waiting for that,” he said.

The group chose to mix flavored tobacco in with Halloween candy to symbolize how tobacco advertising is often juxtaposed with the candy section of bodegas, Richardson said.

The coalition sprung into action over the past several months to get the laws through the City Council. This activity coincided with public outcry over the rise in vape-related deaths and illness, stemming largely from black market THC vape products. 

For years before that trend caught the sudden attention of the media and Federal government, the popularity of vapes among teens has been surging. By 2018, Center for Disease Control reported that one in five high schoolers in the U.S. have tried a vape. 

In the past three months, Richardson said that the Flavors Hook Kids NYC has been able to galvanize a an alliance that includes NAACP, clergy groups, parents and advocates around the two bills. One would ban the sale of menthol- and minty-flavored cigarettes in the city. The other would ban all flavored e-cigarettes.

The advocates said that Moya was the 28th council member they have gotten to come out in favor of the flavored e-cigarette ban and the 33rd to sign on to the menthol bill — a majority of the City Council in both cases. 

“If the bills were brought up tomorrow, we would have the votes,” said Richardson.

While the bills’ advocates like Councilman Mark Levine have conceded that vaping may be helpful for adults as a smoking cessation tool, groups like Flavors Hook Kids argue that flavors like lemonade and mango target young smokers.

The advocates said that they expect it to take several months for the City Council to vote on the bills. In the meantime, they will continue to put pressure on the holdouts.

“We are not going to stop until all 51 council members are on board,” said demonstrator Rev. Kevin McCall.

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