FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
ATLANTA, GA – Tuesday Congressman Frank Pallone, chairman of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee, introduced comprehensive tobacco legislation that would ban menthol and other flavored tobacco. The bill, which is a direct response to the recent rise in youth tobacco and e-cigarette use, is expected to have positive implications for African American health as well.
“We couldn’t be more pleased that this life-saving legislation includes menthol,” said Delmonte Jefferson, executive director of NAATPN, Inc. and member of the Coalition to Ban Menthol, a network of organizations vested in the health and wellness of African Americans.
According to Jefferson, many member organizations have been fighting to remove mentholated tobacco products from the market since the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) failed to include it in its initial flavor restrictions more than ten years ago. “Even though coalition members have scored some major victories on the local level (such as in San Francisco), the passage of comprehensive federal legislation would be a game changer for public health.”
Coalition member, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), also considers this long-anticipated legislation to be much needed. “We applaud Representative Frank Pallone’s leadership in establishing guidelines that will help protect young people from the harms of flavored tobacco products,” said Hilary O. Shelton, director of NAACP Washington Bureau and senior vice-president for policy and advocacy.
“Given the negative health impact of smoking, and African Americans’ disproportionate burden of disease, we must adopt policy measures that promote good health and not fuel a new generation of Black smokers,” said Shelton.
Valerie Yerger, co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC) comments that there are numerous social injustices associated with the tobacco industry’s predatory marketing of flavored tobacco products.
“In predominantly Black communities, mentholated tobacco products are more heavily advertised, promotions and coupons are more lucrative, and there is pervasive industry influence of community leaders,” said Yerger. “To add insult to injury, menthol cigarettes are cheaper.” As a result, she says, more than 85 percent of African American adult smokers and 94 percent of Black youth who smoke are using menthol products.
Menthol cigarettes, flavored cigarillos, and nicotine e-juices are said to be the driving forces in the continued health disparities within the Black community and other marginalized sectors of society. As such, Jefferson says that the Coalition to Ban Menthol are keeping a close eye on the increased targeting of the Black community by JUUL and other e-cigarette manufacturers.
“We will not sit idly by and allow our communities to be falsely lured into substituting one deadly addiction for another,” he said. “Legislation such as this will help.”
A statement published by the Coalition to Ban Menthol said that tobacco-use prevention advocates could soon expect combative rhetoric to be used to block efforts to save the 45,000 Black people who die each year from tobacco-related diseases. Such rhetoric usually centers on legitimate concerns that Black and Brown communities face with inequitable enforcement—or lack of enforcement—of tobacco control laws. Additionally, unsubstantiated assertions may be made that menthol restrictions will lead to a black market.
“Where these restrictions are in place, we have not seen the emergence of a black market,” said Phil Gardiner, co-chair of the AATCLC. “Moreover, none of the current restrictions on menthol and flavored cigarettes have led to black kids being arrested for possession of these products.” Gardiner insists that while the spokespeople for such messaging may be people of color, this rhetoric will likely be driven by and funded by the tobacco industry. The coalition agrees that the introduction of this legislation is a long-overdue remedy for preventing initiation and supporting cessation. They applaud Congressman Pallone for his vision and bold action.
NAATPN.Inc. is a 20-year-old organization that exists to facilitate the implementation and promotion of comprehensive policies, community-led programs and culturally competent public health campaigns that benefit African Americans. We are committed to addressing the social and economic injustices that have marginalized our communities and led to deep health disparities. NAATPN is fortified by a network of community organizations, grassroots organizers, faith leaders, legislators, clinical service providers, researchers and media professionals.
About NAACP Health
The mission of the NAACP is to ensure equal political, educational, social, and economic rights for all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination. This mission includes a focus on the right of African Americans and other people of color to have optimal health outcomes and access to timely, quality, affordable health care.
The NAACP is committed to eliminating the racial and ethnic inequities that exist within our health care system that undermine communities of color their life opportunities and their ability to contribute fully to the common good.
About African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council
The African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC) partners with community stakeholders, elected officials and public health agencies to inform the national direction of tobacco control policy, practices and priorities, as they affect the lives of Black-American and African immigrant populations. The AATCLC has been at the forefront in elevating the regulation of mentholated and other flavored tobacco products on the national tobacco control agenda.