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An overwhelming 80% of African-American smokers prefer the crisp taste of menthol cigarettes like Newports and Kools, an FDA advisory committee reported on Friday. This is not news to the black community – nor is it a mental leap to realize that banning these tasty carcinogens would help more blacks break the destructive smoking habit. So it’s incomprehensible that the FDA will make no plans to tackle the insidiously addictive menthol cigarette, even though the FDA’s own Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee stated: “Taking menthol cigarettes off the market would benefit public health” (USA Today). Banning these super-seductive cancer sticks should be of primary concern to the FDA, if this agency possesses any concern for the black community. And yet:

Panel members stopped short of recommending specific regulatory action by the FDA, such as banning menthol cigarettes, which are preferred by about 30% of smokers overall and 80% of African-American smokers. Minty menthol has been the only cigarette flavor on the market since Congress gave the FDA regulatory authority over tobacco products in 2009.

Although scientific evidence doesn’t suggest menthol cigarettes are more likely to cause smoking-related illnesses than regular cigarettes, their availability probably increases the number of smokers in the general population, particularly African Americans and youths, the committee said in its final report. One contributing factor is manufacturers’ marketing of menthol cigarettes, the report said.

In addition, the report said, African Americans find it more difficult to quit smoking menthol cigarettes than non-menthol cigarettes, the committee said. […]

The FDA has no deadline for taking action related to menthol cigarettes, said Lawrence Deyton, director of the agency’s Center for Tobacco Products.

If menthol cigarettes:

1. Are the only flavor-enhanced cigarettes allowed on the market,
2. Are the only type that blacks overwhelmingly prefer,
3. Are the cigarette blacks find the most difficult to stop using, AND
4. The FDA has no plan to ban these products,

You have to wonder: Should the leaders of the FDA be in charge of public health?

If 80% of blacks addicted to smoking are hooked on menthols, there is something particularly treacherous about them. The powerful relationship blacks have to this flavor coupled with the targeted marketing outlined in the report clearly demonstrates the necessity of banning menthol cigarettes as quickly as possible if a significant reduction in smoking for blacks can occur. If the FDA will not ban menthol cigarettes right away, despite this evidence, this organization will essentially be handing us over as a profit-generating sector to tobacco companies in perpetuity.

Blacks suffer from smoking-related illnesses more than any other group, which the FDA must know. According to BlackDoctor.org, “African Americans continue to suffer disproportionately from chronic and preventable disease compared with white Americans. Of the three leading causes of death in African Americans — heart disease, cancer, and stroke — smoking and other tobacco use are major contributors.” At an 80% use rate, addiction to menthol-flavored cigarettes is a prominent factor that exacerbates the persistent health gap in our community. The FDA could do something about it now — but won’t.

We as a group have a responsibility to monitor our behaviors, but agencies like the FDA are in a position to use our taxes to help us help ourselves – not sit idly while information that could improve overall public health goes unused. If nothing is done, black Americans would be right to accuse the FDA of collusion with the tobacco industry. This type of exploitation despite proof of harm should not be tolerated by any entity running in part on black tax dollars.

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  • mack

    Since when did banning something make people stop doing it?

    • I AM A BLACK WOMAN

      oKAY??? And this article did not address the fact that MANY other ethnicities smoke menthol cigarettes too. Why make EVERY DAMN THING a black/white issue. GTFOH And WHY would the FDA make companies stop making a different variety of their product – it is JUST AS ADDICTIVE AS NON-MENTHOL cigarettes and ALL cigarettes are bad for your health. Why doesn’t FDA outlaw ALL cigarettes then? This is a stupid point being made by the “studies and research” team. So the FDA should only care about African-American smokers? This is SO EFFING STUPID.

  • Mallory

    Why not ban all cigarettes and tobacco products if you’re concerned about public health? Otherwise, just assume that black people, as well as white people, can make their own decisions, and would rather not have their preferred brand of cigarettes outlawed.

  • If you banned them, what would be the punishment for illegally obtaining menthol cigarettes. Your argument is basically that because black people use them, let’s ban them. Aren’t we already sick and tired of existing drug laws that disproportionately punish poor black people. Our past two presidents have admitted to drug habits that have earned many young black men and women of lowere socioeconomic status longterm accommodations in state and federal prisons. We have wackos like Charlie Sheen parading their past/current drug use around the town yet the lives of young people in poorer neighborhoods who’s life’s trajectory are prematurely cut short because of similar or lesser offenses.
    I hate smoking as much as the next guy, but I hate the shuttling of masses of poorer (more often black) folk to prison because of biased drug laws even more so.
    Let’s work more on prevention and intervention. Why is it that young black folk are less likely to use cigarettes in high school compared to white counterparts but catch up in use later on. Why aren’t primary care providers offering prescription drug aids for quitting smoking when the evidence is out there that they are more effective than quitting cold turkey?

  • DrugFree

    Hi. I am an intern at The Partnership at DrugFree.org. This article presented quite a few interesting facts. I think one key statistic that is missing is the percentage of African-Americans that are addicted to cigarettes overall. While I understand the writer’s need to emphasize that African-Americans are particularly drawn to menthols and that banning them would help in lowering the rate of African-Americans that suffer from the many smoking-related illnesses, it is also important to note that other racial groups would benefit from banning menthols as well.

  • mikki

    banning something wont make people stop doing it, look at prohibition …however as a smoker i can tell you if i could no longer buy menthol cigarettes, i would not risk prison or fines, to try and buy some one the black market and as i dont like non menthol cigarettes i would just quit b/c i couldnt buy them anymore