Black Group Asks FDA to Snuff Out Menthol Cigarettes

Black Group Asks FDA to Snuff Out Menthol Cigarettes

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Today is "World No Tobacco Day," and the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council is using the day to urge the Food and Drug Administration to ban menthol in tobacco products, arguing that menthol masks the harsh taste of tobacco, encouraging more African Americans to smoke and to smoke more.

The council, which is based in Oakland, Calif., also urged supporters to sign a 42-page online petition, calling for a ban on menthol, which was presented in April to the FDA.

"This is the most important health issue of our time," Carol McGruder, co-chair of the council, said during a news conference on Thursday. "Menthol covers up the harsh taste of tobacco, giving the cigarette a pleasant taste."

Because of its taste, menthol is known as a starter ingredient that enhances the popularity of cigarettes, especially among young and beginner smokers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 19.4 percent of the black population smoke, and 82.6 percent of them smoke menthol cigarettes.

People who smoke menthol cigarettes can inhale the smoke longer, which may explain the high rates of lung cancer deaths, according to the research study, "Demographics of Smoking."

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths among both African-American men and African-American women, according to the American Cancer Society.

In 2009, the FDA banned specific flavorings in cigarettes including strawberry, grape, orange, cinnamon, vanilla and coffee as part of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, but menthol escaped banishment in the United States. Brazil banned menthol cigarettes, using U.S. data, McGruder said.

Dr. Phillip S. Gardiner, the co-chair's council, said cigarette manufacturers have targeted African Americans with predatory marketing. This includes placing more signs in the black community advertising brands of menthol cigarettes. The signs are also larger in the black community, and they are positioned close to schools, Gardiner said. In addition, cigarette manufacturers sell their products at a lower price in the black community.

"In the white community, a person can buy one pack of cigarettes and get one pack free," he said. "In the black community, a person can buy one pack and get two packs free."

In a 2002 research paper, “The African Americanization of menthol cigarette use in the United States," Gardiner wrote that the cigarette industry has successfully promoted among African Americans the belief that menthol cigarettes are safer than regular cigarettes. The companies also donated money to civil-rights organizations, which encouraged the groups to support their brands. The leading menthol brands are Newport, Marlboro Menthol and Benson and Hedges.

"Menthol cigarettes are a growth area for the cigarette industry," Gardiner said. "People aren't smoking a pack a day like they used to, but the proportion of menthol-cigarette smoking is increasing."

World No Tobacco Day, which is organized by the World Health Organization, highlights the risks associated with tobacco use and advocates for effective policies to reduce tobacco consumption.

The day is observed each year on May 31.

The African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council can be found on the web at SavingBlackLives.org.