By Anthony McCaskill
There is an epidemic in our country. Nicotine has once again taken hold of Americans. Its tight grip, however, is ever so slowly being loosened, as legislation to ban flavored e-cigarette products is becoming more common by the day.
However, while everyone is busy talking about e-cigarettes, there is much more to the conversation that is constantly getting left out, and one culprit especially needs to be considered – menthol cigarettes.
Menthol cigarettes have been killing young, minority and low-income populations for decades. It’s about time this administration stood up for these vulnerable communities and stopped their unjust suffering.
I am not here to argue that e-cigarettes are not causing this devastating epidemic – because I am concerned about the new addition to big tobacco’s vile inventory. However, it’s only a part of the larger problem that needs to be addressed.
Because menthol has always been advertised and marketed as less harsh and more cooling than tobacco cigarettes, it is often the more popular choice among new smokers, making them even more to blame for the youth smoking epidemic that has plagued out country.
Big tobacco knows these cooling effects are attractive, and they have been using this to their advantage throughout history. For decades, tobacco companies have been preying on minorities, youth and women by specifically targeting them to buy menthol cigarettes. Their marketing was effective, to say the least, as menthol predominantly remains the number one choice among these communities. So much so, that nearly 89 percent of African American smokers over the age of 12 use menthol cigarettes, and they are disproportionately used by younger smokers.
As someone proud to be from a pre-dominantly African American neighborhood, I aim to fight to have our voices heard so that they do not continue to be drowned out in the country’s conversation.
Even last year, the FDA considered banning menthol cigarettes, which as NAACP’s Senior Director of Health Programs Marjorie Innocent said was “promising and long overdue” for the Black community. The ban, however, has yet to come to fruition, despite having garnered support from groups such as the NAACP and their campaign Youth Against Menthol.
It is not just minorities and youth that fall victim to the “smooth and cooling” effects of menthol cigarettes, but lower income neighborhoods also are known to prefer them to regular cigarettes. According to recent data, 44 percent of smokers with annual incomes less than $30,000 choose menthol cigarettes, which is 12 percent more than households with incomes of $75,000 or more.
There is no lack of research that shows menthol is deadly, and in fact, many studies point to the fact that it is even worse than regular tobacco cigarettes. That, coupled with the dangerous and enticing marketing, makes them by in large the higher risk product.
While everyone continues with the e-cigarette debate, big tobacco companies keep winning, and it’s their menthol products that are helping them maintain their lead. It is the responsibility of the federal government to take a stand and protect these communities by putting a stop to menthol cigarettes. Clearly, the FDA knows it is the right thing to do, as they have brought it up in the past, but it’s time to pick up where they left off and carry the ban through.