May 21 marks No Menthol Sunday — a campaign to raise awareness about the health risks of menthol cigarettes, specifically aimed at Black communities. The vast majority of Black Americans who are smokers use menthol cigarettes.
No Menthol Sunday started as a call for faith-based leaders to educate their communities about the detriments of smoking. It’s also a rallying cry to stand up to the tobacco industry by even encouraging smokers to not buy menthol cigarettes for one day.
In April 2022, The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) proposed a ban on menthol cigarettes, citing its potential to “reduce disease and death from combusted tobacco product use” and its possible role in “reducing youth experimentation and addiction, and increase the number of smokers that quit.”
Supporters of the FDA’s proposal who are Black Americans still believe that banning menthol cigarettes is mostly a Black health equity issue, as more than 80% of Black Americans who smoke use menthol cigarettes, according to the American Lung Association.
Experts also point to the tobacco industry’s long history of targeted advertising of menthol products in predominantly Black communities.
Bruce Barcelo, Director of Implementation here at Soter calls this issue inherent “systemic racism and oppression.”
“These issues have been there since the conception of the tobacco industry and their business,” he said.
He also said that No Menthol Sunday is an important campaign because it raises awareness about health issues beyond the risks of smoking.
“The reason why this is such an important issue,” he said, “is it is a social justice issue where health inequities are being exploited by Big Tobacco. The tobacco industry is still promoting these products to African-American communities and other communities that experience vulnerabilities.”