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Worldwide No Menthol Sunday is May 16

By Susan Dunlap

Frankfort, KY - The Kentucky Department for Public Health (KDPH) is encouraging people across the state to participate in No Menthol Sunday on May 16. The global observance comes in the wake of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's announcement that it will restrict the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars later this year.

Led by the Center for Black Health & Equity, No Menthol Sunday encourages faith congregations and local communities to help spread awareness of the impacts of tobacco and provide support to those trying to quit. The event focuses on menthol, a minty flavor the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says "masks unpleasant flavors and harshness of tobacco products, making them easier to start using." The FDA also says menthol can enhance the effects of nicotine, making the products more addictive. Acting FDA Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock called menthol "the last allowable flavor" and said stopping the sale of it and all flavors of cigars would help save lives.

"COVID-19 has exposed the severity of racial health inequities in our state and across the country, and unfortunately, those disparities show up again when you look at negative impacts from tobacco use," said Gov. Beshear. "Restricting the sale of menthol is the right thing to do to protect all of our people, and it will especially help protect our young people and communities of color in Kentucky, who are often targeted with advertisements for these tobacco products."

Cabinet for Health and Family Services Secretary Eric Friedlander said the cabinet fully supports restricting the sale of menthol tobacco products because the move "prioritizes kids, and racial and health equity."

"Events like No Menthol Sunday that encourage people to quit tobacco have always been important," said Kentucky Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Program manager Ellen Cartmell. "However, they are more important now than ever because of the evidence showing that people who smoke have more serious cases of COVID-19. We look forward to seeing how support from congregations and communities will work hand-in-hand with policy change to save lives."

Vivian Lasley-Bibbs, director of KDPH's Office of Health Equity, noted, "Data shows that African Americans overwhelmingly use menthol cigarettes and are less likely to be able to quit smoking successfully. We must continue to raise awareness of the effects of nicotine on African American smokers and No Menthol Sunday and the collaboration with our faith leaders is an opportunity for discussion, support and encouragement for smokers to seek treatment services."

Menthol tobacco products have been disproportionately marketed for decades to communities of color and low-income populations. Nonprofit public health organization Truth Initiative reports there are "up to 10 times more tobacco ads in Black neighborhoods" than in other neighborhoods. Other studies have shown that menthol tobacco products are often discounted in areas with more Black residents, and the tobacco industry has a history of targeting African Americans with direct mail coupons and other menthol promotions.

As a result, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 82 percent of African Americans who use tobacco use menthol products and that smoking kills 47,000 African Americans every year. Philip Gardiner, DrPH, serves as co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council. Gardiner wrote in a statement that "menthol cigarettes and flavored little cigars have been and are the main vectors for death and disease in the Black community."

The FDA also announced that it will restrict the sale of flavored cigars, which the 2020 National Youth Tobacco survey revealed as the most popular tobacco product among Black high school students. Cigars are the second most popular tobacco product, after e-cigarettes, among all high school students. The American Academy of Pediatrics applauded the FDA's decision, saying it "will protect future generations of young people from nicotine addiction."

There is strong evidence the menthol and flavored cigar restrictions will help people quit using tobacco. The FDA cites one study that suggests "banning menthol cigarettes in the U.S. would lead an additional 923,000 smokers to quit ... in the first 13 to 17 months after a ban goes into effect." The Kentucky Tobacco Prevention and Cessation Program hopes the flavor restrictions will encourage Kentuckians to call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for no-cost, professional help quitting. Getting help from a quitline and using quit-smoking medications including gum, lozenges and patches, can double a smokers' chances of quitting successfully. Many Kentuckians can receive free quit-smoking medications through 1-800-QUIT-NOW and

The FDA's actions will focus on keeping menthol cigarettes and flavored cigarettes off the market, rather than targeting individual possession or use of the products. The new regulations will apply to manufacturers, distributors, wholesalers, importers and retailers of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars. The American Medical Association said that if the FDA had removed menthol cigarettes from the market in 2009, when all other flavors of cigarettes were banned, "roughly 17,000 premature deaths would have been avoided and about 2.3 million people would not have started smoking." NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson said in a statement, "The ban by the FDA is long overdue to protect the health of African Americans and to reduce the deleterious impact of menthol smoking and tobacco use overall on America's health."

This story was posted on 2021-05-10 11:01:46.
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