Op-Ed: A Call for a Ban on Menthol Tobacco Products, Not Just E-Cigs

Richard Smith | December 11, 2019 | Opinion
Big Tobacco aggressively markets menthol smokes to the African American community, where tobacco is No. 1 cause of death
Richard Smith

There is no question: New Jersey lawmakers must step in to address the e-cigarette epidemic that is reversing decades of progress the state has made in preventing tobacco use among the young. Flavors like mint, cotton candy, and grape are more enticing to kids and play a key role in drawing new users into a lifetime of addiction.

As the Legislature debates taking these dangerous, flavored e-cig products off the market, there’s an opportunity to right another wrong by going after the only flavored cigarette on the market — menthol cigarettes — that are having a particularly destructive impact on the African American community.

For decades, Big Tobacco has aggressively marketed menthol cigarettes to communities of color, leading to disproportionate health outcomes compared to white smokers. African Americans suffer the greatest burden of tobacco-related mortality of any racial or ethnic group in the United States. Menthol cigarettes are literally killing us.

Each year, approximately 45,000 African Americans die from tobacco-related disease. Tobacco is the No. 1 cause of death in the African American community, surpassing all others, including AIDS, homicide, diabetes and accidents. If current smoking rates persist, an estimated 1.6 million black Americans under the age of 18 will become regular smokers, and about 500,000 will die prematurely from a tobacco-related disease. Every day the menthol loophole is left open, dozens more black and brown people become addicted to these dangerous products.

Lawmakers and elected officials are already taking action to restrict the sale of flavored products. They are cracking down especially hard on the more than 15,500 candy-like choices offered for e-cigarette and vape users. But all of this work will yet again be thwarted unless we get serious about the real problem: menthol.

The NAACP New Jersey State Conference is backing a ban on all flavored tobacco products — including menthol and mint-flavored e-cigarettes, cigarettes, and cigars — that does not punish individuals for purchase, use or possession of these products. We strongly encourage the state Legislature to take action during this lame-duck session.