Taking Down Tobacco: “It’s Not Just” about Menthol Flavored Tobacco Products

In Onondaga County, African Americans are at a higher risk for poor health outcomes related to many chronic diseases, including those caused by tobacco use! Sadly, the tobacco industry has spent decades marketing menthol-flavored tobacco products in Black or African American communities1,2. As a result, 85% of Black smokers use menthol cigarettes, compared to 29% of white smokers3,4. To bring awareness to this issue, Tobacco Free NYS and Tobacco-Free CNY have kicked off their new “It’s Not Just” campaign. This campaign will educate people across New York State that menthol tobacco products are not just flavored, are not just in communities, are not just addicting, and are not just an injustice – they’re killing Black Americans.

While menthol can be used safely in many everyday products, when added to cigarettes and other types of tobacco, the menthol flavor creates a cooling sensation in the throat and airways,5,6, masking the harshness and allowing the user to inhale more of the toxic and addictive ingredients. Due to the tobacco industry’s intentional marketing in Black or African American communities, menthol tobacco products are addicting and killing Black Americans at higher rates. Ninety-three percent of Black smokers started by using menthol cigarettes5,7. Black smokers die of heart attacks, strokes, and other causes linked to tobacco use at higher rates than white smokers, even though they smoke less than whites1,8-12.

To market these products in Black and other minority communities, menthol tobacco products are given more shelf space and are often marketed as “smooth” to make the product seem more appealing and disguise the dangers1,13. In addition to being heavily advertised and widely available, certain tobacco products have been found to be priced lower in Black communities, making them more appealing, particularly to youth14,15,16. Over 7 out of 10 Black youth ages 12-17 years who smoke use menthol cigarettes1,17.

This is a very timely campaign! In April of this year, the FDA announced that it would support a ban on menthol-flavored cigarettes. This decision was based on some of the facts below:

  • A report by a committee of the FDA found that if menthol cigarettes had been banned in 2010, roughly 17,000 premature deaths would have been avoided and 2.3 million people would not have started smoking in the past 10 years.
  • Research shows that quitting menthol-flavored tobacco is more difficult than quitting non-menthol tobacco. Black Americans consistently report more, but less successful attempts at quitting menthol tobacco products.
  • The FDA ban on mentholated tobacco regulates manufacturers and retailers of the product—not an individual’s use or possession of them. A ban on menthol tobacco products will not increase the potential for unjustly criminalizing Black Americans.
  • Data from other countries with previous bans show no likelihood of international, illicit trade of menthol cigarettes after they are prohibited. Surveys show, in fact, that a ban would encourage Black Americans to quit menthols rather than seek them from a black market.
  • Smoking-related illnesses are the No. 1 cause of death in the Black community, more than murders, suicides, HIV, and car accidents combined. To remain silent on this issue would be an injustice.

Tobacco-Free CNY is a program administered by the Onondaga County Health Department that works in Onondaga, Cayuga, and Oswego Counties to reduce illness, disability, and death related to tobacco use and secondhand smoke exposure through multiple community and youth-oriented goals. Tobacco-Free CNY plans to disseminate the campaign messaging within the three counties through various media channels and community engagement activities. To learn more about the “It’s Not Just” campaign and help to fight the injustice, visit www.notjustmenthol.org.

  1. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “African Americans and Tobacco Use,” https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/disparities/african-americans/index.htm, updated November 16, 2020.
  2. Food and Drug Administration. Preliminary Scientific Evaluation of the Possible Public Health Effects of Menthol Versus Nonmenthol Cigarettes, 2013.
  3. Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “Tobacco Use Among African Americans,” https://www.tobaccofreekids.org/assets/factsheets/0006.pdf, 2021.
  4. Delnevo, CD, et al., “Banning Menthol Cigarettes: A Social Justice Issue Long Overdue,” Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 22(10): 1673-1675, 2020.
  5. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “Menthol and Cigarettes,” https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/tobacco_industry/menthol-cigarettes/index.html, updated May 18, 2020.
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  12. S. Department of Health and Human Services, The Health Consequences of Smoking, Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2004 [accessed 2018 Jun 12].
  13. Center for Public Health Systems Science, Point-of-Sale Strategies: A Tobacco Control Guide, St. Louis: Center for Public Health Systems Science, George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis and the Tobacco Control Legal Consortium, 2014 [accessed 2018 Jun 12].
  14. Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, “Tobacco Company Marketing To African Americans,” https://www.tobaccofreekids.org/assets/factsheets/0208.pdf, 2018.
  15. Resnick, EA, et al., Cigarette Pricing Differs by U.S. Neighborhoods—A BTG Research Brief. Chicago, IL: Bridging the Gap Program, Health Policy Center, Institute for Health Research and Policy, University of Illinois at Chicago, http://www.bridgingthegapresearch.org/_asset/d49910/btg_tobacco_brief_FINAL_011113.pdf, 2012.
  16. Cantrell, J, et al., “Marketing Little Cigars and Cigarillos: Advertising, Price, and Associations with Neighborhood Demographics,” American Journal of Public Health, published online ahead of print August 15, 2013.
  17. Gardiner PS, “The African Americanization of Menthol Cigarette Use in the United States,” Nicotine and Tobacco Research 2004; 6:Suppl 1:S55-65 [cited 2018 Jun 12].
  18. American Heart Association, “African Americans and Cardiovascular Diseases: Statistical Fact Sheet, 2013 Update,” http://www.heart.org/idc/groups/heart-public/@wcm/@sop/@smd/documents/downloadable/ucm_319568.pdf, 2013.