ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — There are some big pushes to change smoking regulations. Right now, the Food and Drug Administration is hearing public comment on a proposal to ban menthol cigarettes.
That’s a move that could impact cancer rates among minorities. That's because according to the CDC, approximately 85 percent of non-Hispanic Black or African American adults who smoked, used menthol cigarettes in 2019. They're less likely to successfully quit, partly because menthol enhances the addictive effects of nicotine in the brain.
While studies show a ban on menthol cigarettes could help nearly 1 million smokers quit and reduce healthcare costs, there's also a push to minimize how much nicotine is in any type of cigarette—flavored or not. The idea would be to make cigarettes not as addictive if at all. Each year, nearly half of a million Americans die prematurely from a disease associated with smoking. That includes more than 40,000 deaths from secondhand smoke.
Delmonte Jefferson is the Executive Director of the Center for Black Health and Equity. That's a national organization that works on public health programs for the Black community. He says the tobacco industry has targeted minorities.
“If you go back historically, they tried to come into our communities with uptown cigarettes back in ‘90s, and we pushed back,” Jefferson said.
He shared this sharper insight though that the public didn't push back on the FDA’s effort to eliminate flavored cigarettes like strawberry and grape. He thinks the FDA can use that momentum from the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act to make bigger changes.
"If you have an emboldened FDA that says OK, we want to get on the bandwagon, and we want to try and protect the public's health. They're going to address menthol. They're going to address nicotine. They're going to address vaping. They're going to address hookah," Jefferson said. "There's going to be no escape for these ill-health events that are out there and products that are out there that are causing this destruction to our communities. They're going to be targeted and cited next."
He says the FDA has to ban menthol across all smoking products in order for changes to be effective. Jefferson says it’s going to take years to see changes in the market and expects the tobacco industry to sue. He says if the FDA makes any changes, he doesn’t expect to see people turn to illegal means to get the products they use now.
"Canada, as we know, they banned menthol there hasn’t been any evidence of a black market. They haven’t been running down here to get their cigarettes," Jefferson said.
He believes the idea is just propaganda just to make people afraid.
Smoking cessation programs are going to be key to keeping people from swapping from cigarettes to vaping. Jefferson says in the meantime, communities should be working to regulate menthol cigarettes.
The Biden Administration wants to make the changes as part of the Moonshot program, reducing cancer deaths by at least 50 percent over the next 25 years.
“Of course our cancer rates, our lung cancer rates and other cancer rates are going to decrease, but not just our cancer rates, other chronic diseases that are impacted by tobacco. Diabetes, heart disease, stroke all these things that are impacted by tobacco, those rates are going to go down,” Jefferson added.