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Survey Shows that Two-thirds of African American Smokers in Greater Cincinnati Use Menthol Products

Feb 19, 2021

One of the goals of the Greater Cincinnati Adult Tobacco Survey is to identify disparities in tobacco use among different groups. A report released this week by Interact for Health details one of the most revealing figures: Among adult smokers in the region, 68% of African American smokers are current menthol users. This compares to 19% of white smokers.  

Menthol is an ingredient added to cigarettes to make them less harsh and more palatable. Menthol products are easier to start and harder to quit. The 2009 Family Smoking and Prevention Act prohibited flavors in cigarettes but provided an exemption for menthol. 

“The fact that such a large percentage of African Americans in Greater Cincinnati smoke menthols didn’t happen by accident,” said O’dell Moreno Owens, M.D., M.P.H., President and CEO of Interact for Health. “It is the result of decades of targeted marketing by tobacco companies in Black communities. Plus, African Americans are more likely to die from smoking-related diseases – such as heart disease, stroke and cancer – than people who are white. As we work to reduce tobacco use in our region, we must address the barrier that menthol cigarettes present when advancing racial and health equity.” 

The Greater Cincinnati Adult Tobacco Survey showed that adults in the region are aware that menthol cigarettes are more harmful or just as harmful as non-menthol cigarettes, and that menthol cigarettes are just as or more addictive than non-menthol cigarettes.  

On Thursday, Interact for Health hosted a webinar for 37 community partners to discuss what’s being done across the country to address menthol use. It featured keynote speaker Carol McGruder, Co-Chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council. 
“The biggest obstacle is always tobacco industry interference,” McGruder said. “Their latest interference is to cynically use their own historical predatory targeting of the Black community and try to flip it, saying that policies that aim to protect the Black community from tobacco industry profiling are racist. The tobacco industry latches onto the legitimate fears and concerns of racial profiling and police brutality and uses them to block public health policy that could annually save 45,000 Black lives from tobacco-induced diseases.” 

One strategy to reduce menthol use in communities is to pass policies to restrict the sale. More than 100 communities across the U.S. have such measures in place, though none has yet to be adopted in Greater Cincinnati. When asked if a law prohibiting the sale of menthol cigarettes were enacted, 44% of menthol cigarette users surveyed said they’d try to quit. 

For a copy of the full report on menthol and additional data from the Greater Cincinnati Adult Tobacco Survey, visit http://www.interactforhealth.org/about-tobacco-survey. For more information about Interact for Health’s tobacco-related efforts and grantmaking, visit https://www.interactforhealth.org/reducing-tobacco-use/

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