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Tobacco Companies Racially Discriminate Against Minorities

Tobacco use disproportionately affects many marginalized populations, including racial and ethnic minorities, who have a long and documented history of being aggressively targeted by the tobacco industry.

ASH supports those who categorize the tobacco industry’s aggressive marketing as institutional racism. Read more on that here>

You might be thinking, don’t all companies advertise their products? What’s different here? The product.

Tobacco products kill when used as intended. They’re responsible for more than 8 million deaths worldwide every year and more than 480,000 deaths a year in the U.S. alone. That’s about 1 in 5 American deaths a year, or 1,300 Americans dying every single day.

With a death toll so outrageous, anything tobacco companies do to boost the sales of their products (which they know kill when used as intended) is a problem. When you use an already marginalized community’s culture, dreams, experiences, and icons to hook them on your deadly products, you’re violating that community’s right to be free from racial discrimination.

Nearly 9 in 10 (88.5%) of African Americans ages 12 and older who smoke use menthol cigarettes as a result of those targeted advertisements (source).

Studies have shown that predominantly Black communities across the country have more advertising and cheaper prices for menthol cigarettes – a targeted (and unfortunately successful) campaign to hook Black Americans on deadly menthol cigarettes. In Washington, DC specifically, researchers found that stores in predominantly Black neighborhoods were up to 10 times more likely to display tobacco ads inside and outside than retailers in areas with fewer Black residents (source).

Research also shows that more tobacco retailers exist in areas with larger Black, Hispanic and low-income populations. None of this is by accident.

Menthol is more than just a flavor, it cools your throat to mask the burning feeling then combines to allow users to inhale toxic chemicals deeper into their lungs.

As a result, African American youth who smoke menthol cigarettes have greater nicotine dependence and a greater desire to smoke than non-menthol users, and therefore have a harder time quitting (source).

The health consequences of African American adult smokers speak volumes: 67% of overall health disparities in mortality in African American men are related to their high smoking prevalence (source).

What can we do?

We must do everything in our power to ban menthol in all tobacco products.

That’s why ASH has joined forces with the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC), the American Medical Association (AMA), and the National Medical Association (NMA) to sue the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for their inaction regulating menthol.

Our joint lawsuit was filed in June 2020.

Read that press release here and watch the press conference below.

On April 29, 2021, we welcomed the FDA’s response that they will begin the rulemaking process to ban menthol in tobacco products. Read our joint press release here> Read the outpouring of support from other organizations here>

We remain hopeful the FDA will take immediate, decisive action to remove menthol from all tobacco products because that will no doubt save countless lives.

Research shows that if menthol cigarettes were banned nationally, 44.5% of African American menthol smokers would try to quit. Other countries, including Canada, Brazil, Ethiopia, and the European Union, have already taken this step to save lives. And new research from Canada, published April 2021, shows that more people tried to quit smoking following their menthol ban.

In fact, in 2011, the FDA Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee concluded that without the FDA removing menthol, by the end of 2020, the African American population will have suffered over 4,700 excess deaths caused by menthol in cigarettes and over 460,000 more African Americans will have started smoking caused by the presence of menthol in cigarettes.

Today, we are in 2021 which means those 4,700 American lives have already been lost and more than 460,000 African Americans have started smoking because of menthol. 

That is the deadly, human cost of inaction; a cost our country can no longer bear.

Read the extended history of menthol
in tobacco products here>

Resources for Local Action

ASH has developed resources for advocates across the U.S. to use and adapt to support their efforts in combatting mentholated tobacco products.

Learn more here>

Press Conference on June 17, 2020

Hear from ASH, AATCL and our representing firm as we announced our lawsuit against the FDA for their inaction on menthol.