Menthol and Black Communities

September 11, 2020

BREAKING NEWS: Landmark bill (Senate Bill, SB, 793) was signed into law, that will save Californians lives – especially kids’ and people of colors’ lives – from the tobacco industry’s deadly products. For the African American / Black community, SB 793 will save lives by correcting a mistake made in 2009 when a federal law got rid of flavored cigarettes but left out menthol cigarettes. Big Tobacco fought hard and kept menthol cigarettes out of the federal law. It’s estimated that, had menthol cigarettes been included, up to 237,000 Black deaths would have been prevented by 2050. When Big Tobacco had the opportunity to save African American/Black lives, they fought to keep their deadly products on the market.  California lawmakers stood up to Big Tobacco. SB 793 will save African American / Black lives in California.

SB 793 was also written specifically to protect communities of color from criminalization and police harassment. The law ends the sale of flavored tobacco in stores, putting the responsibility on the tobacco industry and retailers to comply with the law, and does not criminalize individuals for purchasing, using or possessing flavored tobacco products. Learn more about the law, here

History of Deliberate Addiction
Back in the day, it was common for the makers of menthol cigarettes, such as Newport or Kool, to sponsor music festivals and use popular artists and musicians to promote their products, particularly to communities of color. These promotions were meant to look like community support, but that’s simply not true.

These sponsorships, which included handing out cigarettes for free, were simply part of Big Tobacco’s master plan to get and keep African Americans hooked on menthol cigarettes. It was predatory targeting and customer recruitment all dressed up as support for the Black community. Unfortunately, it worked, and nearly 70% of adult African American smokers in California smoke menthol cigarettes, the highest rate of any group. 1

Menthol has been a recruitment tool for far too long. Big Tobacco has added menthol flavoring to cigarettes for nearly a century to mask tobacco’s harsh taste, making the toxic smoke easier to inhale.2 But that ease comes with a price. The smoothness of menthol allows smokers to inhale more deeply, so harmful particles can settle lower in the lungs.3 Menthol cigarettes are also harder to stop – people who use menthol cigarettes have a harder time quitting. 4 5

A Loophole That Could Have Saved Thousands of Black Lives
The year 2009 could have been the end of menthol flavored cigarettes. That year the federal Tobacco Control Act passed by the federal government banned all flavored cigarettes, except menthol, which is a flavor! Big Tobacco got a huge loophole put into the Act, claiming menthol cigarettes preserved smokers’ choice, particularly among African Americans.

Time has shown Big Tobacco’s real intent. In the last 10 years, smoking cigarettes overall decreased, but the proportion of people using menthol cigarette sharply increased, compared to regular cigarettes. Menthol cigarettes are far more common among youth and young adults than adult smokers over age 30.6 Make no mistake: menthol cigarettes cost lives.

It’s estimated that more than the 320,000 deaths would have been averted by 2050 had the menthol cigarette ban gone into effect in 2011.7

And though African Americans are only ten percent of the U.S. population, nearly a third of saved lives would have been African Americans.

Menthol cigarettes are a big reason why African American communities experience the greatest burden of tobacco-related death of any racial or ethnic group in the United States.


The Tobacco Industry has deliberately targeted African American/Black communities through the use of menthol and it has had devastating  effects.

You can get the facts about how deep the deception goes, and ways to you can help by visiting:Button


Need help quitting? 


Additional information on Big Tobacco’s menthol manipulation:

References renameme

  1. 2018 California Health Interview Survey
  2. Kreslake JM, Wayne GF, Alpert HR, Koh HK, Connolly GN. Tobacco industry control of menthol in cigarettes and targeting of adolescents and young adults. Am J Public Health. 2008;98(9):1685–1692. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2007.125542
  3. Kreslake JM, Yerger VB. Tobacco industry knowledge of the role of menthol in chemosensory perception of tobacco smoke. Nicotine Tob Res. 2010;12 Suppl 2:S98–S101. doi:10.1093/ntr/ntq208
  4. Levy DT, Blackman K, Tauras J, et al. Quit attempts and quit rates among menthol and nonmenthol smokers in the United States. Am J Public Health. 2011;101(7):1241–1247. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2011.300178
  5. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Preliminary scientific evaluation of the possible public health effects of menthol versus nonmenthol cigarettes. July 2013.
  6. Villanti AC, Mowery PD, Delnevo CD, Niaura RS, Abrams DB, Giovino GA. Changes in the prevalence and correlates of menthol cigarette use in the USA, 2004-2014. Tob Control. 2016;25(Suppl 2):ii14–ii20. doi:10.1136/tobaccocontrol-2016-053329
  7. Levy DT, Pearson JL, Villanti AC, Blackman K, Vallone D, Abrams D. Modeling the future effects of a menthol ban on reduced smoking prevalence and deaths averted in the United States. Am J Public Health. 2011;101(7):1236-1240
  8. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Tobacco Use Among U.S. Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups—African Americans, American Indians and Alaska Natives, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, Georgia: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 1998.