‘African-Americanization of Menthol Cigarettes’: How the FDA ban on menthol can help the Black community

By: Anser Hassan/ BNC Correspondent & Alyssa Wilson/ BNC Digital Content Producer  

 The United States Food and Drug Administration announced it would ban menthol and other flavored cigars within the next year. The organization said it is taking significant steps to “reduce addiction and youth experimentation, improve quitting, and address health disparities.”  

According to the American Lung Association, menthol is a natural chemical found in peppermint and other mint plants. It was first added to tobacco in the 1920s and 1930s to reduce the harshness of cigarette smoke and irritation from nicotine. Flavors, including menthol, are reportedly one of the primary reasons children start using tobacco products.  

“Banning menthol— the last allowable flavor— in cigarettes and banning all flavors in cigars will help save lives, particularly among those disproportionately affected by these deadly products. With these actions, the FDA will help significantly reduce youth initiation, increase the chances of smoking cessation among current smokers, and address health disparities experienced by communities of color, low-income populations, and LGBTQ+ individuals, all of whom are far more likely to use these tobacco products,” Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock, M.D. said.  

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco is a major contributor to the three leading causes of death among African Americans. Mitch Zeller, J.D., the Director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products, said the population has been targeted by big tobacco companies.  

“For far too long, certain populations, including African Americans, have been targeted, and disproportionately impacted by tobacco use. Despite the tremendous progress we’ve made in getting people to stop smoking over the past 55 years, that progress hasn’t been experienced by everyone equally,” he said.  

RELATED: Baltimore Black baptist ministers conference expresses opposition to proposed Maryland menthol ban

While the national ban may take a year to go into effect, cities in California have already banned menthol cigarettes. In East Oakland, Dr. Samali Lubega, a Family Physician at LifeLong Medical Care, said more than 20% of her patients are smokers and statistics look different based on race.  

“Where there are predominately Black neighborhoods, we see upwards of 20 percent of the population smoking and when you drill down to menthol cigarettes, we see that same pattern that anywhere from 65% to 90% of all the African American people who smoke, are smoking menthol cigarettes.”  

Dr. Phillip Gardiner, a co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, has been trying to change tobacco policy for over a decade. He said big tobacco has doubled down on the Black community since the 1940s.

“[They] started sponsoring events in the Black community like the Cool Jazz Festival and started to use our lingo like Papa’s got a brand new bag,’” Gardiner said. “That’s what we call the African-Americanization of menthol cigarettes.”

In the 1950s, only 10%t of Black smokers used menthols. Now, 85% of Black adult smokers and 94% of Black youth smokers use menthol. Dr. Lubega hopes the national ban will help the Black community.  

 “What I am hoping for, for my patients, is just that they have a fair chance at successfully at quitting and at raising the next generation without this disproportionate influence of the tobacco industry and this will go a huge way to really lift that weight off the shoulder of these communities.”


RELATED: LEAP warns potential menthol ban would increase police interaction with Black community 

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