Public Health and Tobacco Control Advocates Gather in
The Future of Menthol Cigarettes
“Congress did ban a wide array of other flavors including strawberry, grape, orange, clove, cinnamon, pineapple, vanilla, coconut, licorice, cocoa, chocolate, cherry and coffee, based on the common sense logic that flavored cigarettes make smoking more attractive to kids,” Healton said. But she pointed out that menthol flavors are still permitted, even while research has shown has a negative impact on these two high-risk smoking communities.
The success of menthol cigarettes is no accident. Literally, many hundreds of tobacco industry documents conclusively establish that the tobacco industry has for decades systematically developed and marketed menthol products to attract and keep as long-term customers millions of “starter” and youth smokers. Public health advocates can definitively say it is a major factor – and has been designed and marketed to be a major factor – in youth smoking initiation. One study demonstrated a 17.5 percent increase in youth menthol cigarette use between 2000 and 2002. Despite a 22 percent decline in overall packs of cigarettes sold in the
Dr. Healton also pointed out that menthol products have been aggressively marketed to racial minority communities and that, in fact, about 80 percent of African-American smokers use menthol products. Nearly half of Hispanic smokers in high school (47 percent) usually smoke menthol cigarettes. Menthol cigarettes are also preferred by 76 percent of African American smokers, 62 percent of Asian American smokers and 29 percent of White smokers. “[Banning menthol products] is a matter of social justice,” Dr. Healton told the audience. “We all know that tobacco is not an equal opportunity killer. Those [African American youth and Hispanic] communities heavily targeted to by the industry are often the same ones that have been traditionally disadvantaged in other ways,” she said. Internal tobacco industry documents point to their marketing practices targeted toward minorities and one study found that between 1998 and 2002, Ebony was nearly 10 times more likely than People to contain ads for menthols, while the Spanish version of People was more than twice as likely to contain ads for menthol cigarettes than the English language People
For decades, the tobacco industry has made other deliberate and fraudulent attempts to reassure smokers about the health effects of its product, Dr. Healton underscored. Just as it has done with light cigarettes, the industry has tricked smokers into believing that menthols are a healthier alternative to regular cigarettes. “Menthol is not only an ingredient in cigarettes; it’s an ingredient in all kinds of cold medicine – from cough drops to throat spray. And the message that smoking menthol cigarettes has some medicinal benefits has been a recurrent theme in tobacco industry advertising,” Dr. Healton said.
While there are many important unknowns about menthol products, such as why menthol smokers may have a harder time quitting or if menthols are, in fact, more dangerous than regular cigarettes, Dr. Healton contended that there is enough evidence to make a compelling argument to ban them from the market today.
“If we can prevent our young people from being recruited as “replacement smokers” for those who quit smoking or died from tobacco-related disease, we stand a real chance of stemming the tobacco epidemic. There is simply no question that a product that has been designed to and does appeal to our kids is ‘appropriate for the protection of the public health,’ which is the standard that the FDA must meet,” Dr. Healton said.
Academics, advocates, activists and representatives from national public health organizations ALSO participated. Conference sponsors and supporters include: American Cancer Society; American Heart Association; American Legacy Foundation®; American Lung Association; Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Howard University; National African American Tobacco Prevention Network; National Cancer Institute; National Institute of Drug Abuse; National Latino Tobacco Control Network; North American Quitline Consortium; Novartis Consumer Health; The Praxis Project; Prevención, Inc.; University of California Office of the President; University of Maryland College Park; Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program.
The American Legacy Foundation® is dedicated to building a world where young people reject tobacco and anyone can quit. Located in Washington, D.C., the foundation develops programs that address the health effects of tobacco use, especially among vulnerable populations disproportionately affected by the toll of tobacco, through grants, technical assistance and training, partnerships, youth activism, and counter-marketing and grassroots marketing campaigns. The foundation’s programs include truth®, a national youth smoking prevention campaign that has been cited as contributing to significant declines in youth smoking; EX®, an innovative public health program designed to speak to smokers in their own language and change the way they approach quitting; research initiatives exploring the causes, consequences and approaches to reducing tobacco use; and a nationally-renowned program of outreach to priority populations. The American Legacy Foundation was created as a result of the November 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) reached between attorneys general from 46 states, five