Op-ed: Ban menthol cigarettes to save Black lives

For decades, the tobacco industry has aggressively marketed menthol cigarettes to Black people, putting their lives disproportionately at risk, according to the authors of a September 15, 2020 op-ed in The Hill. They recommended that menthol cigarettes be banned to address these inequities.

The authors—including Mary Bassett, director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University—noted that 85% of Black American smokers use menthol cigarettes, compared to 29% of white smokers. Cigarettes, menthol in particular, kill about 45,000 Black people every year.

The tobacco industry’s strategy of donating to athletics, arts, and education is aimed at covering up the promotion of products known to attract Black smokers, the authors wrote. The industry, they added, has “seized on the precarious state of Black-owned news and entertainment enterprises to accomplish an exchange of badly needed advertising revenue for the promotion of their lethal products.” The authors noted that tobacco companies have marketed more aggressively in Black neighborhoods than in white neighborhoods, portraying menthol cigarettes in particular as “easier” and “safer” than other cigarettes.

“As tens of thousands of Black men and women lose their lives to COVID-19 and chronic illnesses related to tobacco use, it’s never been more urgent for the United States to protect Black lungs,” the authors wrote. “It’s time for the FDA to ban menthol cigarettes and remove them from the marketplace once and for all.”

Read the op-ed in The Hill: To tobacco companies, Black lives don’t matter