WXMI — Last week, the Food and Drug Administration moved to ban the sale of menthol flavored cigarettes and cigars. The move is being applauded by anti-smoking groups and by the Grand Rapids Urban League, who’ve been offering smoking cessation resources for over a decade.
“It’s incredibly dangerous for our public health to have mentholated cigarettes on the market,” said Gregg Hampshire, director of the Urban League’s Center for Health, Wellness, and Youth. “Menthol cigarettes are easier to start, they’re more difficult to quit… people can inhale with greater ease and become more addicted.”
Hampshire also says tobacco companies have marketed menthol products far more heavily to Black and Latinx smokers.
“All tobacco products are advertised more aggressively in these communities,” he said. “It wasn’t until the 1960s, the Civil Rights became more in vogue for their marketing and they started using images of black empowerment to market mentholated products.”
Now, Hampshire says menthol products represent a third of the tobacco industry’s profits in a given year and 86% of Black smokers report using mentholated products, 1-in2 using only mentholated products.
Because of that, Hampshire expects pushback from the industry, particularly lawsuits that could delay the ban from taking effect. Regardless, Hampshire expects stores to be allowed to sell their remaining stock and in the meantime, the Urban League is bolstering their smoking cessation resources for those who want to quit. They’ve also been working with schools to address second-hand smoking in schools and also helped craft the Tobacco Free Parks policy that passed the Kent County commission 6-1 earlier this year.
And Hampshire says it’s not just Black and Latinx communities seeing continually high rates of menthol use. Younger smokers and LGBTQ + smokers are also seeing alarming rates of increased use as well.
Hampshire says last year 45,000 Black Americans died from smoking related illnesses and hopes the ban will spark an appetite for quitting.
“Even the CDC, when they did a survey of individuals that used menthol products exclusively over half of them said ‘oh, well if there’s no menthol products? Then I guess I’m just going to quite smoking.’”
For more Urban League resources on quitting smoking, call 616-245-2207 or email firstname.lastname@example.org