By Karen Stokes
On Friday, April 22, 2022, Attorney Sharon Eubanks, Carol McGruder, co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC) and Mark Meaney, the Deputy Director of Commercial Tobacco Control Law and Policy at the Public Health Law Center led a virtual panel discussion as part of the No Menthol Sunday kickoff.
Bold Awareness-A Fight to the Finish is the theme for No Menthol Sunday, a national day of observance that takes place on May 15, 2022.
“That fight represents the struggle of people that tried to quit using tobacco and a fight for accountability from an industry that has targeted our community for decades with menthol products,” said Vivian King.
No Menthol Sunday led by The Center for Black Health and Equity and supported locally by the Wisconsin African American Tobacco Prevention Network is the day when the faith community, residents, elected officials, tobacco retailers, and others help spread awareness of the impact of tobacco on Black health, provide support to those trying to quit, and raise awareness on issues related to menthol.
The AATCLC and other groups filed a successful lawsuit against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for failing to take action on menthol in 2020.
The FDA is soon expected to announce a new policy related to menthol.
Smoking kills 45,000 African Americans a year and is a major contributor to leading causes of death: heart disease, diabetes and cancer. The most commonly used tobacco product by African Americans is menthol cigarettes. In fact, 9 out of 10 Black smokers in Wisconsin smoke menthol cigarettes, compared to 4 in 10 white smokers.
“We have a vision in Milwaukee County to be the healthiest county in the State of Wisconsin, that’s why I support No Menthol Sunday as it serves as an opportunity for faith communities and all of us to engage in and empower congregants on critical health issues related to menthol,” said County Executive David Crowley.
The insightful and powerful panel discussion included personal stories of how smoking has affected them, their battles with the tobacco industry and how menthol is targeted to and disproportionately affects Black and brown people.
“In the decision that was signed in 2009 to ban cigarette flavors, menthol was not included,” Eubanks said. This is bad because menthol makes it harder to quit and makes it easier for the smoke to go down while the harsh chemicals go to the throat.”
85% of Black smokers, smoke menthol
46% of Hispanic smokers, smoke menthol
39% of Asian smokers, smoke menthol
“Systemic racism is hidden from people, especially white people,” Meaney said. “The tobacco industry continues to exacerbate health disparities. The goal is to eliminate menthol.”
The panel agreed that the community needs to be active and support efforts to live healthy lives.
“It’s perfect that organizations, not just lawyers, are involved in these issues because these issues are about people. Be vigilant, move forward, ask questions, get answers. The power of the people exists, use it,” Eubanks said.
“This is our year,” said McGruder. “Get involved, this is a long fight.