In August of this year, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) was joined by seven other senators in his call for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to remove menthol cigarettes from the open market. Markey asserted that they encourage more people to start smoking at an earlier age, they increase the mortality rate, and that tobacco companies target Black people in their advertising. So it stands to reason that R.J. Reynolds, the makers of Newport cigarettes, would be alarmed because a ban would mean a substantial reduction in their revenues–reportedly in the billions of dollars.
A Devious Plot
But R.J. Reynolds has taken a curious approach to solving the problem. They could and probably will continue to lobby Congress, but a FairWarning report says that the tobacco company is changing the narrative for the argument against menthol cigarettes. The tobacco company has attempted to enlist the help of Black leaders like Al Sharpton to “hold meetings at churches in Minneapolis, Los Angeles, and Oakland, warning that banning menthols could create an underground market and give police new reasons to jail Black males.”
In other words, the company would have Black people believe that if they don’t stop the ban, they will be forced to buy menthol cigarettes illegally which will make it easy to put more Black males in jail. But are Black people really craving menthol cigarettes like that? It’s not like menthol is addictive in and of itself. Its minty, cooling effect makes it easy for first-time smokers to enjoy less irritation in their throats and lungs while increasing the volume of smoke they can inhale with each puff.
Menthol Makes It Harder To Quit Smoking
According to the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine (AJRCCM), menthol doesn’t make cigarettes any less dangerous to one’s health and it makes kicking the habit more difficult.
“Studies show higher rates of tobacco (nicotine) addiction while using mentholated cigarettes compare to cigarettes compare to cigarettes that do not contain menthol,” the publication said. “Menthol reduces the metabolism (breakdown by the body) of nicotine. It also slows one’s breathing and enhances nicotine’s presence in the lungs. Even if a smoker is smoking less using a mentholated cigarette, he or she is just as likely to experience smoking-related diseases and premature death.”
The AJRCCM also pointed to menthol cigarettes as being the “starter” product for people who go on to be chronic users. So it would seem that using an Eric Garner scenario (Garner was choked to death by a member of the NYPD for supposedly selling loose cigarettes) to scare Black people into protesting against a federal ban on a product that is already killing them at disproportionate rates would be self-serving, at the very least.
It would also appear that R.J. Reynolds could care less about the health or incarceration rates of Black people. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half of smokers under 18 puff on menthols while almost 90 percent of menthol sales are made to Black people. Isn’t it obvious what R.J. Reynolds is doing here?
Black Leaders Are Not Falling For It
But, Rev. Al Sharpton said in one of the church meetings that his National Action Network (NAN) would announce their position on the ban at their convention in April 2018.
“I am not on either side of the argument,” Sharpton said. “I want to hear and listen.”
But NAN’s Los Angeles political director Najee Ali issued a statement confirming his belief that R.J. Reynolds was up to no good. He hosted one of their meetings and ended up apologizing to the leaders who attended.
“The tobacco industry has been spending money for decades to create beautiful lies to hide the ugly truth. Those lies are spread by community leaders who should be ashamed of themselves for selling out and selling death to those who believe and trust them,” Ali said. “My position is clear I love my people too much to betray them.”
And he’s not alone in his position. St. Paul city council member Jane Prince spearheaded an effort to restrict the sales of menthol cigarettes to adult-only tobacco stores and liquor stores. Prince said that the tobacco industry’s efforts are by and large self-motivated and Black people are the biggest losers.
“Over the long term, people are figuring out it’s costing us too much as a community,” Prince said.