Since 2017, Community Health Councils (CHC) has been piloting Healthy Kids Zone (HKZ) which brings together community members within a ½ mile radius of Fremont High School in South LA to work together on advancing healthy promoting policy and systems level solutions to community identified challenges. Based on an extensive community based participatory research and conversations one of the challenges identified was the impact of Alternative Tobacco Products on the community.

Becoming Educated, Building Support and Advocacy

From the Fall of 2019 – early 2020, HKZ Community Partners and Ambassadors began to learn more about the impact of vaping and flavored tobacco:

  • A multi-generational delegation consisting of students and staff from Fremont, HKZ Ambassadors and Community Partners attended the UCLA Kaiser Permanente Center for Healthy Equity Symposium on Emerging Public Health Threats: Cannabis & E-Cigarettes on October 29 th to learn more about the impact of cannabis, vaping and e-cigarettes.
  • In early 2020 several discussions were coordinated: A dialogue amongst Faith Based Partners: “Faith Leaders Overcoming Flavored Tobacco” and via the “Faith Without Borders” podcast focused on the predatory practices of Tobacco Companies in the Black Community.

In late 2019 the County of Los Angeles passed a resolution that took effect May 1st, 2020 prohibiting the sale of all tobacco products– including flavored e-cigarettes, cigars and menthol cigarettes. Other cities like Carson and Compton soon followed suit. In February 2020, HKZ partners collaborated with students and other community members to voice support for a similar resolution at a LA City Council hearing.

Community Awareness and Dialogue

Even with other priorities were taking precedence, the HKZ Community Partnership felt the need to continue building awareness of the deadly impact that flavored tobacco products have on the community. In collaboration with Keeping our Lungs Safe, Community Coalition, the Korean Youth Community Center, LA Trust for Health, and the Office of Samoan Affairs a virtual town hall series was launched.

Reclaiming our Breath – June 27, 2020

This town hall sought to build awareness and expose social injustice and public health concerns around
menthol and other flavored tobacco during the current moments of crisis. Panelists included:

  • Carol McGruder- Co-Chair and a founding member of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC) in California
  • Celina Porras- Supervising Attorney, Tobacco Enforcement Unit at LA City Attorney’s Office
  • Ms. Maria-Isabel Rutledge- South LA Resident and activist with Community Coalition
  • Dr. Karen Beard- Cessation Specialist, California African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council

Reclaiming our Breath: Re-imagining Los Angeles without Flavored Tobacco- August 15, 2020

This town hall engaged participants in a dialogue around the importance of tobacco cessation support, community sentiment about the ban, and the intentionality behind tobacco industries tactics of targeting African Americans and other communities of color. Panelists included:

  • Carolyn Chu- Community Engagement Project Manager at the LA County Tobacco Control and Prevention Program
  • Najee Ali- Civil Rights Leader & Founder of Project Islamic Hope.


While momentum around the passage of a flavored tobacco ban without an exemption of menthol in the City of Los Angeles has slowed down since March, support grew at the state level with the introduction of SB 793. On behalf of HKZ, CHC submitted a letter of support and public comment along with other community partners. The bill which passed through the legislature and was signed by the Governor on August 27th, will prevent tobacco retailers from selling flavored tobacco products or tobacco product flavor enhancers.

This monumental decision puts a stop to the Tobacco Companies long history of targeting black and brown communities and shameful marketing tactics aimed at getting black youth hooked to menthol cigarettes.
Research shows that 80% of Black Smokers use menthol and that tobacco companies have spent millions targeting African Americans and young people to promote the use of menthol. According to the CDC “tobacco use is a major contributor to the three leading causes of death among African Americans—heart disease, cancer, and stroke”. The passing of SB 793 will protect black lives and future generations from a deadly nicotine addiction.

While several local organizations and groups were working to counter the impact of tobacco use and cultural appropriation of the tobacco industry, HKZ and its partners served as a vehicle to strengthen, expand and counter misleading messages prevalent in communities that have contributed to ongoing health disparities. HKZ through its collaborative partners, created new communication pathways from a ground-up approach, harnessing local stakeholders and residents to build knowledge and capacity in the fight for reclaiming our breath, and thereby our voice.