The tobacco industry will do anything to get you to light up a cigarette. For years, they’ve used targeted marketing tactics that zero in on you, your interests, and your vulnerabilities.
According to Carol McGruder, founding member and co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC), “They have the time and the money to research and create campaigns to go after the Black community.”
Menthol cigarettes in particular have been aggressively marketed to African Americans, especially in urban areas, through culturally tailored images and messages. “The steady, strategic, all-encompassing preying upon Black people … is racial targeting,” says Carol. These companies have historically placed larger amounts of advertising in Black publications than in other publications, exposing African Americans to more cigarette ads than our white counterparts.
And it doesn’t stop there. Menthol products are given more shelf space in retail outlets within African American and other minority neighborhoods. Historically, the tobacco industry has attempted to maintain a positive image among Black consumers by supporting cultural events and making contributions to minority higher education institutions, elected officials, civic and community organizations, and scholarship programs. Tobacco companies specifically target young people before they can fully appreciate the consequences of becoming addicted. “This wolf is roaming around, addicting another generation of children,” says Carol.
Leading Cause of Preventable Death
Sadly, the tobacco industry’s targeting campaign has proven to be successful. In the 1950s less than 10% of Black Americans who smoked used menthol, while today over 85% of Black smokers use menthol cigarettes. Did you know that African American adults have the highest percentage of menthol cigarette use compared to other racial and ethnic groups? It’s true—tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in African Americans, claiming 45,000 Black lives every year. That’s more than all other preventable deaths combined, according to Carol.
What’s more, tobacco use is a major contributor to three of the leading causes of death among Black Americans—heart disease, cancer, and stroke—and Black Americans die from these conditions at far higher rates than other Americans. Research also shows that menthol cigarettes may be more addictive than non-menthol cigarettes.
It’s time to take to a stand and ban menthol cigarettes to help this generation and generations to come. Prohibiting menthol cigarettes will benefit Black Americans by reducing smoking, saving lives, and improving overall health in Black communities.
The FDA last year took an historic step forward by announcing plans to ban menthol cigarettes—a plan that was welcomed by health advocates as a way to protect kids from tobacco addiction, advance health equity, and save lives, especially among Black Americans. The next step is for the FDA to propose and implement the regulations needed to turn this decision into life-saving action.
There is strong support for prohibiting menthol cigarettes from leading Black organizations and members of Congress. Ten Black civil rights and public health organizations wrote to HHS Secretary Becerra last year in support of prohibiting menthol cigarettes. In February 2020, members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) voted overwhelmingly for legislation that included a prohibition on menthol cigarettes, and 34 CBC members sent a letter to Secretary Becerra expressing strong support for prohibiting menthol cigarettes.
What You Can Do Right Now
Carol says that change starts at the local level—with you! To get involved, reach out to your elected officials and let them know you support banning menthol. And another way is to bring this message to your groups and communities. “Organize a No Menthol Sunday activity with your church and share it with your friends,” says Carol. “And try to attend the 3rd National Menthol Conference: Finishing the Fight. It will be in Washington, D.C., on September 28 to 30 and there are scholarships available now to offset the cost.”
Stop Big Tobacco from profiting off of Black lives. An FDA ban on menthol cigarettes will improve Black health, save lives, and protect future generations from addiction. Learn more at TobaccoFreeKids.org/BanMenthol.