By Ana Martinez-Ortiz
La’Ketta Caldwell knew she had to be a part of No Menthol Sunday. As a youth development professional and an artist, Caldwell viewed the opportunity as a chance to positively impact her community, especially the youth.
For her part in last Sunday’s statewide day of observance, Caldwell recited her poem, “Awaken.”
“The truth is menthol has been tearing up families, sneaking behind closed doors of homes, getting in the hands of our future, and the passage where the air is drawn,” Caldwell recited.
Caldwell’s poem was one of many segments that took place during Wisconsin’s No Menthol Sunday.
For the past five years, the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network (NAATPN) and the Wisconsin African American Tobacco Prevention Network (WAATPN) along with faith leaders have been celebrating No Menthol Sunday. Due to the quarantine, this year’s event took place virtually.
The purpose of the event is to raise awareness of the use of menthol, especially in cities such as Milwaukee. The theme was “awaken,” with the notion being to encourage congregants to stay “woke” about tobacco related issues. As part of the celebration, several Milwaukee retailers agreed not to sell tobacco products on Sunday, May 17.
Lorraine Lathen, the director of WAATPN, said that tobacco retailer density is twice as high in African American neighborhoods in Milwaukee compared to the surrounding suburbs.
“Menthol tobacco products are heavily marketed to African American communities through point of sale marketing, culturally tailored messages and ads and price promotions,” she said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tobacco kills 45,000 African Americans a year with menthol cigarettes being the tobacco product of choice.
Currently, the smoking rate in Wisconsin for African Americans is 26% and menthol is used by 9 out of 10 African American adult smokers in the state. According to WAATPN, menthol is popular due to its peppermint flavoring which makes it easy to start.
In addition to Caldwell’s spoken word pieces, WAATPN commissioned several local artists to create pieces for No Menthol Sunday. Cassie Sippel, a visual artist and the founder of Shadow Photography, created a No Menthol Sunday coloring book.
“Coloring pages are a great way to help the mind focus on what the page depicts – as you spend time looking at the imagery your brain soaks in that information,” Sippel said.
The book featured pages with phrases such as “Mint flavoring is for gum and candy canes not tobacco” and “We Educate, We Fight, We Stand for Justice.” Word searches were also included in the book.
Sippel was inspired by Caldwell’s poem “Awaken” when creating the images for the coloring book.
“As you the ‘Awaken’ poem, images start to flash through your mind,” Sippel said. “I focused on positive key words/themes in the poem and crafted peaceful and inspiring visuals to accompany them.”
Mayor Tom Barrett and Gov. Tony Evers each issued a proclamation in response to No Menthol Sunday.
“Tobacco, and particularly menthol, is a major contributor to health disparities in the City of Milwaukee,” Barrett said in his proclamation. “No Menthol Sunday helps to raise awareness about menthol’s impact on health and helps faith leaders support congregants on their ‘quit’ journeys.”
Although No Menthol Sunday is over, the fight continues. For additional resources and information on how to quit, visit waatpn.com.