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Health & Medicine

CNY Anti-Smoking Groups Fight Back Against Marketing Of Menthol Cigarettes

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Residents in Central New York and across the state may see a new campaign that shows how the tobacco industry markets menthol-flavored tobacco products to Black communities.  It’s called the “It’s Not Just” campaign.

Karyn Johnson is Program Coordinator with Tobacco-Free CNY.

"We're hoping that we can use this campaign to end the misconeption that menthol is just a flavor, because they do use it in such a way that it actually makes it easier to start smoking and harder to quit."

Johnson says menthol has been used to attract and addict black smokers going back to the 1950’s.  For years, she says the marketing was quite overt, with tobacco companies prominently featuring African Americans in menthol cigarette ads, offering free samples, and funding events in the community. 

"Even today, we still see some of this marketing being done as far as showing that prices are reduced in African American communities and contributing more shelf space to menthol products."

Johnson says the marketing is clearly working.

"If you look at the percentage of people who smoke menthol cigarettes, about 85 percent of all African American smokers use menthol as opposed to under 30 percent of white smokers.  So, their advertising had paid off as far as increasing the African American smoking rate for menthol products."

And, Johnson says, that translates to more health problems.  Smoking related illness is the number one cause of death in the Black community, which includes heart attacks and strokes.  Those health issues surpass AIDS, homicide, diabetes, and accidents. 

The FDA recently announced plans to ban menthol-flavored tobacco products by next year.  Canada made the same move nearly four years ago, and Johnson says menthol product use and smoking rates in general have dropped.  

For help quitting smoking or vaping, you can visit nysmokefree.com or call the New York State Smokers' Quitline at 1-866-NY-QUITS.