Backers of menthol cigarette ban cite health benefits for Black Ohioans

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 28, 2022

By Mary Schuermann Kuhlman
Ohio News Connection

The Food and Drug Administration could soon ban the manufacture and sale of menthol cigarettes, a move advocates in Ohio said could have a positive impact on health, particularly in Black communities.

Yvonka Hall, executive director of the Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition, explained menthol tobacco products have a cool, smooth taste, making them more appealing and easier to use, especially among new tobacco users. She added they also have a mild anesthetic effect which suppresses coughing.

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“Normally when you are taking something into your lungs that should not be there, your body rejects it by coughing,” Hall explained. “Menthol allows you to take in the full ‘poison’ of the tobacco, by making sure that your body doesn’t do what your body should do.”

Research found nearly 85 percent of non-Hispanic Black smokers use mentholated products, putting them at increased risk of smoking-related illnesses. The FDA also estimates a proposed ban on menthol cigarettes could reduce up to 200,000 tobacco-related deaths among African Americans. Public comment on the proposed rule ends on July 5.

Studies showed the tobacco industry has been marketing menthol brands to African Americans since the 1950s, a trend Hall noted continues to this day.

“Whether you see signage around cigarettes or sponsoring concerts, whether they’re rap concerts or the jazz fest, tobacco corporations have looked at things that the community likes as a way for them to perpetuate glamorizing smoking,” Hall asserted.

The Northeast Ohio Black Health Coalition works with local partners in an effort to create menthol-free communities. Hall pointed out a key focus of their work is educating people about the risks of smoking, and mentholated products.

“For parents, when you talk to them about the potential harm that it does to their children, it kind of changes the way they perceive things,” Hall observed. “Making it personal for our communities is more important than ever.”

Hall added Ohioans who need help quitting smoking can reach out to the coalition or other local health-advocacy groups. Health insurance programs also offer smoking cessation programs. For immediate help, she suggested calling the Ohio Quitline, at 1-800-QUIT-NOW.