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Stop Menthol, Save Lives

Noel Cody | ESSENCE


FOR DECADES, THE TOBACCO INDUSTRY HAS DELIBERATELY TARGETED BLACK COMMUNITIES, AND THE CONSEQUENCES HAVE BEEN DEVASTATING. SPONSORED BY CAMPAIGN FOR TOBACCO-FREE KIDS.


The tobacco industry will do anything to get you to light up a cigarette. For years, they’ve used targeted marketing tactics that zero in on you, your interests, and your vulnerabilities.

According to Carol McGruder, founding member and co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC), “They have the time and the money to research and create campaigns to go after the Black community.”

Systematic Targeting Menthol cigarettes in particular have been aggressively marketed to African Americans, especially in urban areas, through culturally tailored images and messages. “The steady, strategic, all-encompassing preying upon Black people … is racial targeting,” says Carol. These companies have historically placed larger amounts of advertising in Black publications than in other publications, exposing African Americans to more cigarette ads than our white counterparts.

And it doesn’t stop there. Menthol products are given more shelf space in retail outlets within African American and other minority neighborhoods. Historically, the tobacco industry has attempted to maintain a positive image among Black consumers by supporting cultural events and making contributions to minority higher education institutions, elected officials, civic and community organizations, and scholarship programs. Tobacco companies specifically target young people before they can fully appreciate the consequences of becoming addicted. “This wolf is roaming around, addicting another generation of children,” says Carol.

Leading Cause of Preventable Death Sadly, the tobacco industry’s targeting campaign has proven to be successful. In the 1950s less than 10% of Black Americans who smoked used menthol, while today over 85% of Black smokers use menthol cigarettes. Did you know that African American adults have the highest percentage of menthol cigarette use compared to other racial and ethnic groups? It’s true—tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in African Americans, claiming 45,000 Black lives every year. That’s more than all other preventable deaths combined, according to Carol.

What’s more, tobacco use is a major contributor to three of the leading causes of death among Black Americans—heart disease, cancer, and stroke—and Black Americans die from these conditions at far higher rates than other Americans. Research also shows that menthol cigarettes may be more addictive than non-menthol cigarettes.


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