smoking, menthol, cigarettes

Health Organizations Focus On Assisting Black Smokers Amid Potential Menthol Cigarette Ban

The push comes as the Biden administration zeroes in on banning menthol products.

President Joe Biden’s administration is getting closer and closer to banning menthol cigarettes in the United States, so recently, major health organizations have been focusing on efforts to help Black smokers have access to treatment programs that will help them quit the highly addictive habit.

The White House is reviewing the Food and Drug Administration’s ban proposal, but the director of equity-centered policies at the Center for Black Health and Equity, Natasha Phelps, told NBC News that the ban is a good first step; however, “we’re so far from the finish line.”

The Center for Black Health and Equity has identified a need for more resources in the Black community regarding menthol addiction treatment. They’ve been partnering with government agencies to include funding in their tobacco cessation bills for groups and grants to focus on the root of the systemic racism problem behind menthol race-related health disparities. Phelps listed, for example, projects that will help fund transportation for minority people to get to treatment facilities, pushing for Medicaid expansion to include addiction-related services and medications. 

“One thing that we can all do is really help to remind the White House that there are sufficient resources out there, specifically for Black people, to help quit menthol. No one’s going to be left behind. No one is going to be left without anything to help them and their addictions,” Phelps said.

According to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the majority of menthol smokers are Black, 85%, and more than 45,000 Black people die from smoking every year.

The issue with menthol cigarettes is that they are highly addictive and difficult to quit, and the rate at which smokers can successfully quit them is concerningly low, specifically in the Black community.

“It’s also a fact that it’s harder to quit smoking with menthol cigarettes. Why that is — it’s still unclear. But this behavior has been observed in many studies as just harder to quit,” Sven-Eric Jordt, an associate professor of anesthesiology, pharmacology, and cancer biology at the Duke University School of Medicine, told NBC News.

Jordt cited the cooling effect of menthol, which suppresses coughing and makes it easier to inhale, as one explanation.

According to the American Lung Association’s national senior director of tobacco programs, Jennifer Folkenroth, “Menthol users tend to smoke less cigarettes and less frequently, yet, are breathing in deeper, holding in the breath longer. So, it’s a misconception among menthol users, in particular, that they are occasional smokers, when, in fact, their tobacco dependency levels — their actual nicotine levels — are extremely high. That misconception many times will kind of deter some of the nicotine replacement therapy dosing.”

It’s challenging to quit menthols on your own, and even still, the American Lung Association’s National Senior Director of Tobacco Programs, Jennifer Folkenroth, said that professional programs that help smokers quit are being severely underused.

“There is a need for more trained and certified facilitators in Black communities, like churches, to really assist these quitters in their journey to freedom,” Folkenroth said.

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