The U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently announced a plan to ban menthol flavored cigarettes and flavored cigars within the next year.
The FDA is “taking urgent action” to ban these “deadly products,” it declared late last month.
Bring it on. I have lost friends and family to the cursed cigarette. Someone close to me is a lifelong menthol smoker, and I pray every day that person will give up the cancer sticks. You know who you are.
For decades, we have been lured by the supposed romance of smoking. The marketing slogans promise that smoking is hip, sexy, even elegant. “You’ve come a long, way, baby.” “Lady be cool.” “Alive, with pleasure.”
I am high-fiving the FDA decision as a life-saving moment, particularly for people of color, the biggest victims of a poisonous addiction.
The FDA hopes to “significantly reduce youth initiation, increase the chances of smoking cessation among current smokers and address health disparities experienced by communities of color, low-income populations and LGBTQ+ individuals, all of whom are far more likely to use these tobacco products,” Acting FDA Commissioner Janet Woodcock said in a statement.
“Tobacco products with menthol can also be more addictive and harder to quit by enhancing the effects of nicotine,” the FDA said. It cites a study that “projected that about 633,000 deaths would be averted, including about 237,000 deaths averted for African Americans.”
Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products stated: “For far too long, certain populations, including African Americans, have been targeted and disproportionately impacted by tobacco use.”
“These flavor standards would reduce cigarette and cigar initiation and use, reduce health disparities and promote health equity by addressing a significant and disparate source of harm.”
In 2014-2015, 76.8% of non-Hispanic black adults who smoked usually used menthol cigarettes, compared with 34.7% of Hispanic adults and 24.6% of whites, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The FDA announcement won applause from some groups, including the NAACP and the American Lung Association, but earned pushback from others.
The American Civil Liberties Union argues the ban would criminalize cigarette use in communities of color.
“Every state in the country, including Illinois, has laws that criminalize the unlicensed sale of tobacco products, and that would mean that there would be an underground market of menthol cigarettes,” said Nusrat Choudhury, legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois.
“Because there are so many people who use these cigarettes who are people of color, that leaves them open to police stops and encounters that can escalate and cause harm,” she told WTTW-TV last week.
She cited the case of Eric Garner, the Black man killed by New York City police after being stopped for allegedly selling untaxed cigarettes on the street.
The ACLU is calling for a public education campaign on the harms of tobacco use and an examination of how the proposed ban would affect law enforcement.
Why assume that Black folks will engage in criminal activity to hold on to their menthol fix? Cigarettes are extinguishing far more Black folks than rogue police officers.
As the COVID pandemic reminds us, people of color have deeply suffered from health inequities.
And “available research suggests that smokers are at higher risk of developing severe COVID-19 outcomes and death,” according to the World Health Association.
As cigarette sales plummet, we are making progress toward snuffing out cigarette use. An FDA ban would be one more welcome nail in that coffin.
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