Statewide campaign shows tobacco industry targets black people with menthol cigarettes


Health officials have launched a statewide campaign called “It’s not only,” which highlights how the tobacco industry aggressively targets African American communities.

Leslie Kohman, wellness manager at Upstate University Hospital, said tobacco companies have been promoting menthol cigarettes in African American communities since the 1930s. And they still do today.

“They are really shameless, just a few years ago Altria donated a million dollars to the Smithsonian Museum of African American History,” Kohman said. “I mean they’re really targeted.”

And this campaign is spreading to convenience stores in African-American neighborhoods in central New York, according to CNY tobacco free program coordinator Karyn Johnson.

“You’ll notice the advertising is different there,” Johnson said. “There is more storage space dedicated to menthol products. There is more advertising.”

And it worked. Eighty-five percent of African American smokers smoke menthol cigarettes, compared to 29% in other demographic groups.

The problem with menthol cigarettes, Kohman said, is that it’s easier to start smoking and harder to quit. That’s why she’s happy that the FDA announced in April its intention to ban menthol as a flavoring in cigarettes, over the next year.

“I think it’s going to be less likely for young people to start smoking because it won’t be that easy,” Kohman said. “If they switch to non-menthol cigarettes, they are more likely to quit because quitting is easier for non-menthol than it is for menthol smokers.”

Smoking-related illnesses are the number one cause of death in the African American community.

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