‘It’s Not Just’ drive targets menthol use

Packs of menthol cigarettes sit on a table in this photo illustration. Drew Angerer/Getty Images/TNS

OGDENSBURG — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced in April its intention to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars within the next year, a move the tobacco industry has pushed against.

Historically, the marketing and promotion of menthol cigarettes have been targeted toward Black Americans through tailored advertising and messages, with menthol products given more shelf space in retail outlets within Black and other minority neighborhoods.

Now, a new statewide initiative aims to put a spotlight on how the tobacco industry has specifically targeted these communities with aggressive marketing of menthol-flavored tobacco products. The “It’s Not Just” campaign launched regionally and statewide on No Menthol Sunday, May 16.

The campaign is intended to educate people across the state, using direct language and emotional imagery of those who represent communities targeted by tobacco companies, about the injustice of menthol-flavored tobacco product marketing and promotion. Proponents of the proposed ban say menthol is more than just a flavor, highlighting the aggressive nature of menthol tobacco marketing and its impact on Black communities.

“Research has shown that menthol makes smoking easier to start and more difficult to quit,” said Meghan Conklin, community engagement coordinator at the Seaway Valley Prevention Council, in a statement. “Menthol use among Black communities is a direct result of the tobacco industry’s marketing practices and manipulation. With the addition of menthol to the banned flavors list, we hope to see an increase in the amount of people who are quitting smoking.”

Citing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Prevention Council says 93% of Black smokers began by using menthol cigarettes, and more than seven out of 10 Black youths ages 12 to 17 who smoke use menthol cigarettes. According to the data, smoking-related illnesses are the number one cause of death in the African American community.

Overall, 85% of Black smokers use menthol cigarettes, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, compared to 29% of white smokers .

New York state ended the sale of flavored e-cigarettes statewide in May 2020 in an effort to curb youth tobacco use. But critics of menthol cigarettes say they continue to present an obstacle to decreasing tobacco use among young people and underserved populations.

“With the recent FDA announcement to ban menthol-flavored tobacco products, this campaign couldn’t be more timely and relevant,” said LaTroya Hester, director of communications for The Center for Black Health & Equity, in a statement. “We know that the tobacco industry will fight this decision with the full force of its legal and marketing power, but we’re not intimidated. The Center is excited about the launch of this campaign, and we are so honored to contribute to much-needed counter-messaging.”

Individuals can learn more about the “It’s Not Just” campaign on its website: NotJustMenthol.org. For help quitting smoking or vaping, including free nicotine replacement therapy for eligible residents, individuals can contact a health care provider, and call the New York State Smokers’ Quitline at 1-866-NY-QUITS or visit: nysmokefree.com.

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