Although smoking is preventable, nicotine addiction is stronger than cocaine, heroin or alcohol addiction. According to the 2014 report of the Surgeon General – The Health Consequence of Smoking: 50 Years of Progress – more than 480,000 people die each year from smoking-related illnesses. 46,000 of those deaths are African Americans. Tobacco industry documents have shown that the industry has always known of the addictive nature of nicotine and of the ability of menthol to mask the harshness of tobacco inhalation. Tobacco documents also show that the industry maliciously marketed mentholated tobacco products to vulnerable populations thus contributing to present disparities in tobacco-related illnesses. In addition, the 2012 report of the Surgeon General – Preventing Tobacco Use Among Youth and Young Adults – lists a host of evidence indicating that mentholated tobacco products are used to initiate smoking among teens and adolescents.
African Americans, Asians, Latinos, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transvestite (LGBT) community, women and children are all targeted by aggressive menthol marketing campaigns. Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has regulatory authority over tobacco products, it has failed to exercise its authority. NAATPN is joined by other national organizations in calling for the regulation of mentholated tobacco products to protect our communities, our children, and ultimately our nation from the harms of tobacco. The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, signed into law in June 2009, gave the FDA authority to regulate tobacco products. The law made the sale of most flavored additives including fruit and candy flavoring illegal in order to protect youth and young adults; however, the law exempted menthol flavored cigarettes. Menthol flavored cigarettes and other tobacco products are preferred by most youth and young adult tobacco users because they are perceived as less harsh and easier to smoke.
The FDA commissioned the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee (TPSAC) to submit a report and recommendation to the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on the impact of the use of menthol in cigarettes on the public health – including use among children, African Americans, Hispanics, and other racial/ethnic minorities. At its meeting in March 2011, TPSAC deliberated on findings and recommendations on the public health impact of the use of menthol in cigarettes. TPSAC recommended the “removal of menthol cigarettes from the marketplace” to the Food and Drug Administration: (USFDA 2011b, p. 225) because of the serious public health threat that they present to society. The second FDA report completed in July 2013 concluded that menthol use is associated with youth smoking initiation and greater addiction. However, to date, the FDA has failed to exercise its authority to ban mentholated tobacco products and they remain a public health hazard.
This year, World No Tobacco Day falls on Sunday, May 31st 2015. NAATPN is joined by the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council and faith based institutions vested in saving African American lives in promoting this year’s World No Tobacco Day as No Menthol Sunday. On this day we want to make a statement that the prolific promotion of mentholated tobacco products in African American and other marginalized communities must be stopped and if the FDA will not exercise its authority to protect us then we will do so ourselves.