African American health, law and educational leaders are calling on President Barack Obama to direct the FDA to remove menthol tobacco products from stores nationwide. Menthol cigarettes kill tens of thousands of Americans every year, a vastly disproportionate number of them are Black. On Sept. 13, members of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council held a press conference to draw attention to this deadly disparity and call on President Obama to act to save Black lives.
More than 45,000 African Americans lose their lives earlier than they should every year in this country because of tobacco-related causes like cancer, heart disease and stroke. Here in Minnesota, approximately half of menthol smokers reported they would quit smoking if menthol cigarettes were removed from store shelves, according to the 2014 Minnesota Adult Tobacco Survey. Think of how many lives would be saved without menthol tobacco around.
The FDA finally decided to regulate e-cigarettes and hookah products last month. The FDA stopped the sale of all flavored cigarettes — except menthol — in 2009, but it still hasn’t taken action on menthol tobacco, which has disparate and devastating effects on African Americans, women and men, and other communities and populations targeted by tobacco company menthol marketing.
I was honored to join a diverse group of Twin Cities advocates in a video that voices our concerns about how our communities continue to be targeted by the tobacco industry with menthol products that help the poison go down. You can see the video here: www.BeautifulLieUglyTruth.org.
The video, co-produced by the Association for Nonsmokers-Minnesota (ANSR) and NorthPoint Health & Wellness, features a poem by local artist, Joe Davis. The poem, called “Beautiful Lie, Ugly Truth,” exposes the beautiful lie of the tobacco industry’s menthol messaging and the ugly truth of how menthol harms people, particularly in targeted communities.
It’s up to us to take on menthol, starting with members of communities most affected by menthol’s many harms. We need to educate ourselves about menthol’s unique dangers, how we have been targeted by the tobacco industry and what we can do to reduce the harm caused to our communities.
Menthol’s unique dangers:
- Menthol is added to cigarettes giving them a cooling sensation, masking tobacco’s harshness and making it easier to start smoking.
- Menthol makes it harder to quit smoking, and research shows menthol smokers are less likely to successfully quit.
The results of the tobacco industry’s targeted menthol marketing:
Preference for menthol among Minnesota high school students has more than doubled since 2000, from 20 to 44 percent of high school student smokers, according to a survey by the Minnesota Department of Health. Almost one in five – 19.1 percent – of all African Americans smoke menthol cigarettes. An overwhelming 88 percent of African American smokers smoke menthols.
What we can do to reduce menthol tobacco’s harms:
- Locally: urge city councils to add menthol to restrictions on the sale of flavored tobacco products to adult-only tobacco stores in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and expand these restrictions to other Minnesota cities.
- Nationally: urge the FDA to remove menthol from the marketplace.
This year local community health advocates have begun this educational push at the Selby Avenue Jazz Festival, Juneteenth events, the Pride celebration, at Night to Unite and other community gatherings. And the work continues, not just at the local level but at the national level, too, as the bold action of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council shows. Please join us in revealing the ugly truth about menthol tobacco.
Eugene Nichols is co-chair of the Health & Wellness Group of the African American Leadership Forum.