Sunday, May 15th was “No Menthol Sunday”, led by The Center for Black Health & Equity. The Vermont Tobacco Control Program hosted “Menthol Tobacco Matters in Vermont” where they shared facts from the event including “tobacco-related illness kills more African Americans than murders, suicides, HIV and car accidents combined”. According to the FDA, African American smokers are nearly 3 times as likely to smoke menthol cigarettes than those who are White. This data should disturb all of us, especially as a social justice issue.
Substance misuse is often an equity and social justice issue. Tobacco* in particular, including menthol and other flavors, is one of the biggest. Menthol is a health equity issue with a century-long history in the US of the tobacco industry targeting the African American community. According to the CDC, menthol makes cigarettes easier to smoke. It also enhances the negative effects of nicotine on the brain, making it more addictive and harder to quit.
Beyond the African American community, other groups are targeted more than others, especially those who are more vulnerable and already experiencing other inequities, since the 90s this has included the LGTBQ+ community. The tobacco industry also targets youth with marketing and appealing flavors, including menthol. It is crucial that we consider equity when creating policies and actions that support prevention. It is all of our responsibility to reduce the risks in our communities that lead to substance misuse and to increase protections for our youth.
You may have heard that in April, the FDA gave a recommendation to ban menthol tobacco in the US and is taking public comment through July 5th. This process may take years, so if you are interested in this topic, get involved locally by joining Healthy Lamoille Valley’s Tobacco Prevention Taskforce. Contact Alison Link for more information, firstname.lastname@example.org.
More ways to get involved
Healthy Lamoille Valley’s next coalition meeting on June 9th from 3:30-4:45pm will focus on equity and substance prevention. For an invitation to this virtual meeting, contact email@example.com.
*“All references to smoking and tobacco use is referring to commercial tobacco and not the sacred and traditional use of tobacco by some American Indian and Alaskan Native communities” (CDC).