How a Menthol Cigarettes Ban Could Help Black Communities

How a Menthol Cigarettes Ban Could Help Black Communities

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been urged to implement a menthol cigarettes ban for over a decade.

In April 2022, the FDA released proposed rules to remove menthol from cigarettes and all flavors, including menthol, from cigars. This is a landmark decision that has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives—many of them African Americans, who use menthol cigarettes at high rates.

While this is a positive sign, the proposed rule is just the beginning. The final rule will take years to complete. Here’s some information on the process: The public can send comments on the rules to FDA. The FDA then has to review all the comments and determine if any changes will be needed to the rule. Once finalized, there will likely be attempts to overturn it, which could delay implementation. That said, this is an excellent opportunity to get menthol smokers started on their quit journey now.

Troubling impact of menthol cigarettes

Menthol reduces the harshness of cigarette smoke due to its characteristic cooling effects on the mouth and throat. It also suppresses the coughing reflex, which makes inhaling smoke from cigarettes more tolerable.

Once addicted, menthol tobacco users find it more difficult to quit than those who use non-menthol products. Adult menthol smokers show greater signs of nicotine dependence, with higher rates of relapse when they do try to quit. However, many menthol smokers indicate that they would quit smoking altogether if menthol cigarettes were banned.

Civil rights organizations, African American health groups, and public health groups ramped up pressure on the federal government to ban menthol cigarettes, accusing it of inaction on the issue. These groups want to remove menthol from cigarettes because menthol has created a huge health inequity caused by the tobacco industry that strategically and aggressively targeted the Black community with menthol cigarettes.

Industry tactics have included placing more advertising in predominantly Black neighborhoods and in publications that are popular with Black audiences. These tactics have also included  sponsoring events such as hip-hop festivals, and partnering and donating to cultural organizations. For years, Truth Initiative has been on a mission to expose industry tactics targeted to Black communities, through a “Black Lives/Black Lungs” documentary, “Read Between the Lies,” and other campaigns.

Chart showing the demographics of who would be most affected by a menthol cigarettes ban, with African Americans making up the most significant percentage of menthol users.

Important takeaway on a potential menthol cigarettes ban

Policy changes such as banning menthol cigarettes can spur smokers to make a quit attempt. When menthol smokers can’t access their favorite tobacco, it’s a valuable window to prompt quit-smoking efforts—before they switch to another tobacco product.

Offering an easy-access, evidence-based program can help menthol tobacco users overcome their addiction to nicotine for good. Many localities and a few states have moved, and continue to move, ahead of the FDA to prohibit menthol cigarettes. By having cessation services available now, you can get your workforce healthy and ready for any policy changes.

How the EX Program helps menthol smokers quit

The EX Program offers participants specific information about how to quit menthol cigarettes. We also offer tailored promotional materials for clients to use with their population to encourage menthol smokers to quit.

To learn more about how we support menthol smokers to quit, simply complete our contact us form.

For insights into why employers and health plans need to think strategically about tobacco cessation right now, see our blog from Chief of Innovations Amanda Graham, Ph.D., “Think Quit-smoking Resources Aren’t Needed? Here’s a Reality Check.”

Stacey Younger Gagosian
Stacey Younger Gagosian

Managing Director, Public Policy

Stacey has worked in politics and policy for over 20 years. At Truth Initiative, she oversees our regulatory agenda and provides expertise on policy actions. In her role, Stacey develops and maintains relations with congressional staff and identifies strategic opportunities to represent Truth Initiative on the Hill, with federal and state agencies, and with public health and tobacco control partners. Her background also includes serving as the legislative associate at the National Breast Cancer Coalition, where she successfully worked to secure research funding and pass legislation requiring more research into the environmental causes of breast cancer.

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