Sharpton visit has ulterior motives

Thanks to the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder for its article “Sharpton straddles fence on menthol cigarette ban” that ran on Feb. 2.

Along with several advocates of the Menthol Coalition, I attended this meeting. I am part of a coalition of health and community organizations committed to reducing the harm caused by menthol-flavored cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Each year in Minnesota, tobacco use is responsible for more than 5,100 deaths and almost $3 billion in preventable healthcare costs. About 90 percent of adult smokers started before the age of 18, and many young people start with menthol-flavored tobacco because menthol masks the harshness of smoking.

The Menthol Coalition supports policies that restrict youth access to menthol cigarettes and other menthol-flavored tobacco. The tobacco industry is using the Rev. Al Sharpton and others to muddy the waters and mask the true nature of these meetings.

The Rev. Sharpton’s visit was sponsored by Reynolds American Incorporated (RAI), the makers of Newport cigarettes. For more than five decades, the tobacco industry has heavily targeted African American with menthol tobacco products. African Americans smoke menthols at a higher rate than the general population by the tune of 88 percent compared to 25 percent. African Americans also face disproportionate health concerns because of this.

I was proud to be at this meeting to stand up to the tobacco industry and its tactics. It’s time our community fights back against the long-time targeting by the tobacco companies.


LaTrisha Vetaw is the health policy and advocacy manager at NorthPoint Health & Wellness Center Inc.