The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued a ruling on menthol cigarettes that puts action behind the words, “Black Lives Matter.” The new policy prohibits the manufacture and sale of menthol cigarettes in the United States, an action research estimates found could save up to 654,000 lives, including more than 238,000 ‘black lives’ over the course of 40 years.
Tobacco prevention and other health advocates, including local groups such as the Wisconsin African American Tobacco Prevention Network and Wisconsin Tobacco Prevention & Poverty Network, view the ruling as a step towards righting the historic wrongs of the tobacco industry against African American communities, which it targeted for decades with its deadly menthol products. But, as also evidenced throughout history, the tobacco industry does not plan to go down without a fight. It’s wielding its many resources to wage a campaign of misinformation related to the menthol ban. Themes of these messages, which you might have seen published recently in a community newspaper near you, include that the ban will create “illicit unregulated marketplaces for menthol,” and most concerningly, “over policing of the black community; in other words, “targeting.”
It’s almost unconscionable that an industry that targets the black community using a wide variety of tactics, including point-of-sale ads, price promotions, sponsorship of events, and by co-opting black-serving institutions, is warning those same communities that they in fact, will be targeted when menthols are removed from the market.
No one should ever mistake the tobacco industry as a credible or trusted messenger. The successful campaign they wielded to push menthol as the black cigarette resulted in 88 percent of black smokers in Wisconsin using menthols, compared to 41 percent of white smokers. Nationwide more than 80 percent of African Americans who smoke use menthols, according to data from the Office on Smoking and Health. Sadly, tobacco use, namely menthol cigarette smoking, is a major contributor to the three leading causes of death for African Americans: heart disease, cancer, and stroke, with 45,000 blacks dying from smoking-related deaths each year in this country.
Here’s the truth about menthol.
The menthol additive gave cigarettes a cooling effect, which made them easier to start and harder to quit. That same cooling effect also allowed for deeper inhales, resulting in stronger addictions. It’s no accident that black smokers start smoking at a later age and smoke fewer cigarettes, but still experience more tobacco-related illness and death than their white counterparts.
Here’s another major truth about the menthol ban. The FDA has said that it can’t and won’t enforce the ban against individuals who smoke or possess menthols. Saying the ban will result in over-policing is an example of the tobacco industry exploiting real issues in the community related to police brutality and mass incarceration. The FDA ban on menthol polices the producers and retailers of menthol, not the people who smoke them.
Here’s one more fact. Many black smokers want to quit using menthols, and the ban will increase that number. One study estimates that the new policy will lead 923,000 smokers to quit, including 230,000 African Americans. And that’s just in the first 13 to 17 months after a ban goes into effect. The Wisconsin African American Tobacco Prevention Network and its partners are working feverishly to help meet this demand by increasing awareness about the many free cessation services available in the area, including the Wisconsin Tobacco Quit Line (1-800-QUIT-NOW).
If you’d like more information on local cessation services or want to join our tobacco prevention movement visit https://www.jumpatthesunllc.com/cessation.html. Most important of all, don’t be fooled by anyone telling you that the menthol ban is harmful to Black people, when in fact, it will save many ‘black lives.’