Science, Now + Beyond

The tobacco industry has a target out on African Americans, and it’s ruining lives

The African-American Tobacco Control Leadership Council is urging President Obama and the FDA to ban menthol cigarettes.

There is a call to action from many African American doctors in the United States to begin the process of further regulating the sale of menthol cigarettes. Dr. Phillip Gardiner, co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, is leading the charge against menthol cigarettes due to African Americans facing disproportional levels of lung cancer, nicotine addiction, and death.

Presently, menthol cigarettes play a colossal role in the health battle that African Americans are facing. The American Lung Association found that African Americans have a higher occurrence of lung cancer than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States. Studies from the same source show that Black men are 37 percent more likely to get lung cancer than white men. NBC News reports that in 2010, 83 percent of black adult smokers and 72 percent of underage black smokers prefer menthol-flavored brands.

With such a large representation of African American smokers choosing menthols, we have to wonder: why? We have known for years that smoking cigarettes can cause cancer, lung disease, and cardiovascular disease. So, what makes menthol cigarettes so appealing? Menthol cigarettes contain menthol, which has a cooling effect. This can soothe the dry-throat feeling that many smokers have, resulting in smokers inhaling more deeply, holding the smoke in their lungs longer, and gaining increased exposure to the carcinogens that cigarette smoke contains. So, while menthols may feel less harmful, the effects can ultimately be even more toxic.

In 2013, the Food and Drug Administration performed a study on menthol cigarettes to determine whether or not restrictions should be placed on the purchase of menthols. Their findings concluded that menthol smokers show greater signs of nicotine dependence and are less likely to successfully quit smoking. They additionally concluded that as menthol cigarettes are marketed as a smoother alternative to non-menthol cigarettes, it is more likely that menthol cigarettes pose a public health risk above that seen with non-menthol cigarettes.

More disturbingly, the FDA reported in the same study that menthol cigarettes are intentionally marketed toward African Americans, women, and youth.  Regardless of these conclusions, regulations were not placed in 2013, but the topic is being pushed again in the coming months.

Dr. Gardiner has proposed an executive order banning the sale of menthol cigarettes, an idea that is not at all outlandish considering the 2009 FDA ban on cigarettes characterizing fruit and candy, thereby attempting to decrease the appeal of cigarettes to children.

In the African-American Tobacco Control Leadership Council’s letter to President Obama, the council pleads that menthol tobacco addiction is “an issue of social justice, one which we have been defenseless in adequately addressing to protect our people.” They additionally write, “…our community’s addiction to nicotine continues to kill more Black people than AIDS, violence, car accidents, and non-tobacco related cancers combined.”  Dr. Gardiner’s push to place a ban on menthol cigarettes could save thousands of lives, and the time to act is now.


To join the battle against menthol cigarettes, please go to