The industry appropriated elements of Black culture and heavily invested advertising dollars into African American publications.
Refuting tobacco industry talking points
Why is removing the sale of menthols an equity issue?
For decades, the tobacco industry specifically marketed menthols to African American communities. The industry appropriated elements of Black culture and heavily invested advertising dollars into African American publications. They are known for sponsoring Black events like the KOOL Jazz festival, saturating urban Black neighborhood stores with ads, and pricing menthols more cheaply in Black neighborhoods. As a result of their efforts, 85% of African American smokers choose menthols while less than 30% of white smokers prefer menthols.
Isn’t tobacco use an issue of personal responsibility?
The tobacco industry used to distribute free samples of their deadly products to underage youth, handing them out from mobile units in Black neighborhoods like an ice cream truck. To this day, tobacco companies donate millions of dollars to institutions that provide credible unbiased information for making good decisions. These include historically Black colleges and universities, African American newspapers, civic leaders, researchers, and elected officials. Research shows that quitting menthols is more difficult than quitting tobacco without this characterizing flavor. African Americans consistently report more, but less successful attempts at quitting menthols. It is possible that tobacco use is not as personal of a choice as many assume.
I heard a rumor that the law that will remove menthol from cigarettes could lead to increased policing in Black communities. Is this true?
This is a tobacco industry argument that exploits the real issues of police brutality and mass incarceration. Excessive force and systemic racism are problems that must be addressed independently of public health measures. The FDA rule would stop manufacturers from adding menthol as a flavor ingredient into cigarettes - that’s it. It does not penalize or open the door for police to stop people from smoking, buying, or having menthol cigarettes. Some state and local laws remove flavored tobacco products from shelves and only regulate retail stores, not individual people.
Will removing menthol from cigarettes lead to the creation of an illegal market?
All evidence points to no. Economic data from countries like Canada (that have already removed menthol cigarettes from their markets) and the United States show that after removing menthol and other flavored cigarettes there was no substantial increase in illicit trade of menthol cigarettes internationally or domestically. In other words, these laws do not create an entire illegal market. Remember, the United States already removed all other flavors (like grape and strawberry) except for menthol and tobacco in 2009. There was no illicit trade market created as a result and economists say it is extremely unlikely if the FDA added menthol to that list of already prohibited flavors in cigarettes. The industry pushing this claim about illegal menthol markets plays into harmful stereotypes against African Americans as it asserts Black people will turn to criminal activity. In reality, surveys show that if menthol were removed from the market it would actually encourage African Americans to quit menthols and treat nicotine addiction rather than seek it from a "black market".
Is the FDA just trying to take away our personal freedom?
Flavors were already removed from cigarettes in 2009, with the exception of menthol. Like food, drugs, cleaning products and cosmetics, the FDA regulates products that threaten the public’s health or safety. They do not regulate personal choices.