Menthol: More than Just A Flavor
Menthol makes it easier to start and harder to quit
The disproportionate impact of tobacco use on African Americans is indisputable. Tobacco use contributes to the three leading causes of death among African Americans: heart disease, cancer and stroke. Blacks smoke fewer cigarettes on average and start smoking later than whites, yet are more likely to die of tobacco-related diseases. A significant contributor to these health disparities is menthol: Nearly 90 percent of African American smokers smoke menthol cigarettes, compared with 29 percent of white smokers.
A 2013 U.S. Food and Drug Administration report shows that the cooling and anesthetic effect of menthol allows smokers to inhale more deeply and hold the smoke in the lungs longer. As a result, menthol smokers show higher levels of nicotine addiction and decreased success quitting than non-menthol smokers, leading the NAACP to recommend that the FDA ban menthol in cigarettes.
50+ Years of the tobacco industry aggressively marketing menthol to the Black Community
The documentary, Black Lives, Black Lungs, explores the history, marketing tactics and impact of the tobacco industry targeting African Americans with menthol products. It documents what Dr. Phil Gardiner, Founding Member and Co-Chair of the African American Tobacco Leadership Council, refers to as the tobacco industry’s “African Americanization of Menthol.”
In 1953, only 5 percent of African American smokers used menthol. Today, nearly 9 in 10 Black smokers do. Evidence of the tobacco industry’s continued efforts can be found locally. Predominantly Black neighborhoods have more tobacco retailers per capita, more ads, more menthol, and higher smoking rates.
It’s Not Just Campaign
New York State Media Campaign to Raise Awareness of the Impact of Menthol-Flavored Tobacco on African Americans
In the summer of 2021, New York State’s Tobacco Control Program (TCP) launched the “It’s Not Just” campaign to raise awareness of the deadly and disproportionate impact of the tobacco industry’s seven decades of marketing menthol-flavored tobacco products to African Americans. As a result of this targeted marketing, nearly 90 percent of Black smokers smoke menthol cigarettes, compared with 29 percent of white smokers.
Although Black Americans smoke fewer cigarettes on average and start smoking later than White Americans, Black smokers die of heart attacks, strokes and other causes linked to tobacco use at higher rates than white smokers do. They also make more attempts to quit smoking than White smokers but are less successful at it. A major reason for these disparities is menthol: menthol tobacco products are easier to start and harder to quit.
Menthol Impact on Youth
New York State Media Campaign to Raise Awareness of the Impact of Menthol-Flavored Tobacco on Youth
Tobacco-Free New York State has launched the media campaign “It’s Not Just” which exposes the tobacco industry’s intentional efforts to increase menthol product appeal to youth. Menthol makes tobacco products smoother and better tasting, making it easier for youth to start and harder for them to quit. Menthol is not just a flavor, it’s a way for tobacco companies to attract and addict youth.
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