Williams: If Black Lives Matter, Ban Menthol Cigarettes | Columnists

The Food and Drug Administration’s decision on Thursday to ban menthol cigarettes should have been a moment of unfiltered elation for Cute Guy. Instead, she was fuming over the ensuing gaslight.

“Yesterday I was on fire,” said Guy, chair of Virginia Commonwealth University’s African American studies department, which specializes in medical racism and health inequities. She was angry at the misinformation and disinformation on social media and other platforms intended to incite African Americans to defend an indefensible product.

Nearly 85% of all non-Hispanic black smokers smoke menthol cigarettes; 30% of non-Hispanic white smokers use menthols, according to the FDA.

“I want the public to know they’re being targeted again,” Guy told me on Friday.






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She anticipates a long legal battle before the cigarette industry against this proposed ban. But if black lives really matter, we have to look askance at cigarettes, which disproportionately kill black people. African-American men have the highest lung cancer rates in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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The tobacco industry, Guy said, “has gone from forcing us to grow and pick tobacco to really targeting us to use tobacco.”

In an interview with VCU News, she called the proposed ban – which would also ban “featuring” cigar flavors – “a historic and long overdue action to protect all of our country’s children, advance fairness in health and saving lives, especially among Black Americans and other populations who have been targeted by the tobacco industry and suffered enormous damage from the predatory marketing of these products.

“When I committed to studying tobacco as a graduate student, it was just for this time,” Guy said. “I learned early on that the tobacco industry manipulated menthol products to increase their addiction, that they targeted black people, low-income white people, LGBTQ+ and young people to use these products – which, if they were used as intended, would probably die. ”

“My goal,” she said, “was to contribute to the body of evidence that would lead to a ban on menthol cigarettes and an end to the industry that preys on black communities.”

The marketing of menthol cigarettes to black consumers has been facilitated by redlining and residential segregation.

I grew up in a house where we smoked menthol cigarettes. Kool – a brand that reportedly has a jazz festival named after it – seemed to be the brand of choice. The cooling effect of menthol makes cigarettes easier to inhale, which makes for a more pleasant experience.

My parents managed to quit. But it was too late for my father, Wilbert Williams, who was diagnosed with lung cancer before his death three decades ago.

Stoking Guy’s ire on Thursday was the alliance between cigarettes and some black leaders, including Al Sharpton, who acknowledged in a New York Times article that his National Action Network had received financial support from the tobacco industry.

Sharpton, in a letter to Susan Rice, director of the Domestic Policy Council, wrote that banning menthol would have “unintended consequences” and “seriously target and harm African-American smokers, who overwhelmingly prefer menthol cigarettes.” .

“A ban on menthol would impose serious risks,” Sharpton wrote, “including increasing the illegal sale of contraband menthol cigarettes on the black market as well as the street sale of individual menthol cigarettes -” loosies “and, in turn, put menthol smokers at significant risk of entering the criminal justice system.

Yes, Eric Garner, after being accused of selling “loosie” cigarettes, died of strangulation by a New York police officer in 2014. But to callously reverse this tragedy is to ignore tens of thousands of African Americans who die of tobacco-related deaths each year. The targeting and prejudice of black people by the cigarette industry is not an unintended consequence.

The FDA ban would only apply to manufacturers and retailers. As the agency states, “The FDA cannot and will not oppose an individual consumer’s possession or use of menthol cigarettes or any tobacco product.” And state and local law enforcement agencies do not independently enforce federal food, drug, and cosmetic law, the FDA said.

Or as Guy told VCU News, “This fearmongering can’t hide the fact that it’s the industry itself that has attacked and caused so much harm and death to black Americans through the commercialization targeting menthol cigarettes. It’s not about criminalizing black smokers; it’s about saving black lives.

Many organizations have endorsed a ban on menthol cigarettes, including the NAACP, the Congressional Black Caucus and a broad coalition of 77 public health, medical, educational and community organizations.

No black activist should dare to defend a product that has cost the lives of so many black people. Ignore the smoke and the mirrors.


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Michael Paul Williams – columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch – won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for commentary “for penetrating and historically insightful columns that guided Richmond, a former Confederate capital, through the painful and complicated process of dismantling monuments of the city for white supremacy.”


Williams:

Michael Paul Williams – columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch – won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for commentary “for penetrating and historically insightful columns that guided Richmond, a former Confederate capital, through the painful and complicated process of dismantling monuments of the city for white supremacy.”

Michael Paul Williams is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist with the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Richmond, Virginia; read more of his columns on Richmond.com.

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