DENVER (KDVR) — Colorado’s proposed bans on flavored tobacco products, including menthol, have failed. However, there is still a national push for the FDA to ban menthol cigarettes and cigars.
Proponents said a ban on these products would have a positive impact and create more health equity.
A recent analysis by the Council on Foreign Relations found that prohibiting menthol cigarettes would quickly eliminate disparities in lung cancer death rates among Black Americans. They said 85% of Black smokers smoke menthol cigarettes and that tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable death among Black Americans claiming 45,000 Black lives each year.
According to the FDA, studies indicate a ban on menthol cigarettes would save up to 654,000 lives within 40 years, including the 238,000 members of the Black community. Eliminating these products is both a public health issue and a social justice issue, according to the tobacco initiative.
The FDA has found that menthol makes cigarettes more addictive and harder to quit. Menthol also makes it easier for kids to start smoking by cooling and numbing the throat and masking the harshness of tobacco smoke.
The FDA has proposed the ban but extended public comment until Aug. 2.
Big tobacco marketing claims
Big tobacco and those opposing the menthol ban have said it will lead to more encounters between the Black and brown community and police – a claim that just isn’t true if you ask the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council.
Proponents said the goal is to regulate manufacturers, not people.
“The tobacco industry actually has hijacked the need for police reform in our country. It’s hijacked our legitimate grievances around racism and the policing of Black bodies, and it’s taken those feelings that we have that are visceral and it’s linked into us being able to keep methylated tobacco products on the market,” said Carol McGruder, co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council. “Police officers [are not] going to come up to an individual person and say, ‘Are you smoking and methylated tobacco products?’ It’s about retailers. It’s about manufacturers. It’s about taking it up to that level of the people who are controlling this and who are reaping the profits from it.”
“The tobacco industry has always dealt in doubt,” said documentarian Lincoln Mondy. “So when a menthol ban comes into states like Colorado, they immediately seed doubt into the narrative. Through marketing, through press, through media, through telephone, through paper campaigns, and they get Black organizations on their side to do so. We have to have, as Carol says, more education and awareness before the policies are enacted.”
Tobacco awareness campaign
The tobacco industry revenue is projected to be $941 billion in 2023. With menthol being repeatedly excluded from local regulations, how do advocates plan to take down this giant industry?
First, it’s with education and awareness, which is why Mondy created a documentary called “Black Lives/Black Lungs.” He said his documentary is “not your mother’s public health ad” and shows the tobacco industry is playing the “long game.”
The documentary looks back at how the tobacco industry has used the products to target the Black community for decades with a devastating impact.
“It is not a small feat taking on the industry. Around 40% of cigarette sales are in the U.S., so that’s why they’re so scared. That’s why they’re so invested in stocking out any mention of menthol bans because it’s 40% of their bottom line,” said Mondy.
“How do you bring this industry down? You know, one bite at a time. How do you eat an elephant? Because there are people all over the country of goodwill, you grab your part of the giant and you hold on to it so that we can bring this giant down and we consider ourselves to be giant slayers. This is a David and Goliath battle,” McGruder said.