An overwhelming 80% of African-American smokers prefer the crisp taste of menthol cigarettes like Newports and Kools, an FDA advisory committee reported on Friday. This is not news to the black community – nor is it a mental leap to realize that banning these tasty carcinogens would help more blacks break the destructive smoking habit. So it’s incomprehensible that the FDA will make no plans to tackle the insidiously addictive menthol cigarette, even though the FDA’s own Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee stated: “Taking menthol cigarettes off the market would benefit public health” (USA Today). Banning these super-seductive cancer sticks should be of primary concern to the FDA, if this agency possesses any concern for the black community. And yet:
Panel members stopped short of recommending specific regulatory action by the FDA, such as banning menthol cigarettes, which are preferred by about 30% of smokers overall and 80% of African-American smokers. Minty menthol has been the only cigarette flavor on the market since Congress gave the FDA regulatory authority over tobacco products in 2009.
Although scientific evidence doesn’t suggest menthol cigarettes are more likely to cause smoking-related illnesses than regular cigarettes, their availability probably increases the number of smokers in the general population, particularly African Americans and youths, the committee said in its final report. One contributing factor is manufacturers’ marketing of menthol cigarettes, the report said.
In addition, the report said, African Americans find it more difficult to quit smoking menthol cigarettes than non-menthol cigarettes, the committee said. […]
The FDA has no deadline for taking action related to menthol cigarettes, said Lawrence Deyton, director of the agency’s Center for Tobacco Products.
If menthol cigarettes:
1. Are the only flavor-enhanced cigarettes allowed on the market,
2. Are the only type that blacks overwhelmingly prefer,
3. Are the cigarette blacks find the most difficult to stop using, AND
4. The FDA has no plan to ban these products,
You have to wonder: Should the leaders of the FDA be in charge of public health?
If 80% of blacks addicted to smoking are hooked on menthols, there is something particularly treacherous about them. The powerful relationship blacks have to this flavor coupled with the targeted marketing outlined in the report clearly demonstrates the necessity of banning menthol cigarettes as quickly as possible if a significant reduction in smoking for blacks can occur. If the FDA will not ban menthol cigarettes right away, despite this evidence, this organization will essentially be handing us over as a profit-generating sector to tobacco companies in perpetuity.
Blacks suffer from smoking-related illnesses more than any other group, which the FDA must know. According to BlackDoctor.org, “African Americans continue to suffer disproportionately from chronic and preventable disease compared with white Americans. Of the three leading causes of death in African Americans — heart disease, cancer, and stroke — smoking and other tobacco use are major contributors.” At an 80% use rate, addiction to menthol-flavored cigarettes is a prominent factor that exacerbates the persistent health gap in our community. The FDA could do something about it now — but won’t.
We as a group have a responsibility to monitor our behaviors, but agencies like the FDA are in a position to use our taxes to help us help ourselves – not sit idly while information that could improve overall public health goes unused. If nothing is done, black Americans would be right to accuse the FDA of collusion with the tobacco industry. This type of exploitation despite proof of harm should not be tolerated by any entity running in part on black tax dollars.