Of Mice and Menthol: Rethinking Well-intentioned but Insufficient Strategies to Counteract Tobacco Use and Promotion in Minority Populations
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University of Alabama, Center for the Study of Tobacco and Society, United States of America
Publication date: 2018-03-01
Tob. Induc. Dis. 2018;16(Suppl 1):A918
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Background and challenges to implementation:
Mentholated cigarettes have become an advocacy issue because they have been disproportionately promoted to African-American and Hispanic minority groups for decades. These populations have become the largest consumers of menthol brands. Although San Francisco banned the sale of menthol cigarettes in 2017, the net impact of opposing menthol has been more symbolic than successful. The need to fight for a menthol ban could have been avoided had it been included in legislation passed in 2009 by the US Congress to let the Food and Drug Administration regulate tobacco products, but cigarette maker Philip Morris threatened to withdraw its support.

Intervention or response:
Castigating tobacco companies for targeting menthol brands to minorities has overshadowed the public health goal of reducing tobacco use and promotion as a whole. Campaigns that condemned specific cigarette brands marketed to minorities (eg, Uptown, Menthol X, and Kool Mixx) have focused so intensely on the aspect of racial targeting that they insufficiently emphasized the health and economic harmfulness of smoking any brand of cigarettes. Thus little has been accomplished to reduce smoking's longterm impact.by the focus on menthol.

Results and lessons learnt:
Scant new federal or state legislation on smoking has been proposed or enacted to help reduce smoking in minority communities. Existing programs have largely failed to elucidate the relative impact of smoking on minority communities compared to other emerging health threats such as obesity, drug use, and AIDS. Few minority business leaders have been enlisted in the effort to reduce smoking in minority communities. Groups such as the NAACP, the Urban League, and La Raza continue to accept tobacco industry funds and have not supported aggressive anti-smoking campaigns. Leading black publications such as EBONY continue to accept cigarette advertising and have never published articles on smoking.

Conclusions and key recommendations:
Rethinking strategies to counteract tobacco use and promotion in minority populations is urgently needed.

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