Op-Ed: It’s Time to Talk the Truth about Menthol

October 17, 2022 Julia Cuthbertson, Brooklyn Community Engagement Manager/NYC Smoke-Free
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For nearly a century, menthol has been used as an additive in cigarettes to reduce the harshness of cigarette smoke. After becoming widespread in the 1950s, menthol cigarettes – which contain 30-70% more toxins than non-mentholated products – now account for around one-third of all cigarettes sold in the U.S. That is a huge percentage of the tobacco market devoted to cigarettes that are much easier to get addicted to and immensely harder to quit using. 

It’s no surprise that the FDA considers menthol cigarettes to be a major threat to public health. Its adverse effects are not experienced equally among different segments of our population. In fact, African Americans, teens and the LGBTQAI+ communities have long been the target of aggressive marketing tactics by tobacco companies and consequently use mentholated products at much higher rates, leaving them more vulnerable to a lifetime of addiction and tobacco-related illnesses. 

With all the progress public health organizations have made in reducing smoking rates and increasing smoke-free protections, menthol cigarettes continue to pose a threat to tobacco control work. According to the Truth Initiative, the decline in cigarette consumption was much higher for non-menthol than menthol cigarettes from 2005-2015. Their stubborn presence in the market will all but guarantee that health disparities persist and disproportionately harm groups that are already susceptible to worse health outcomes. 

It’s time that we talk about these ugly truths and work towards creating communities that foster healthy choices regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or socioeconomic status. For more information on NYC Smoke-Free or to lend support in ending NYC’s devastating tobacco epidemic please visit www.NYCSmokeFree.org

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