No Menthol Sunday

Highlighting the Problem of Menthol and Tobacco Addiction in Communities

Tiffany R.

Tiffany R. knows what it’s like being addicted to menthol cigarettes. When she was 16 years old, her mother, who smoked cigarettes, died of lung cancer. Still, Tiffany started smoking menthol cigarettes in her late teens because she wanted to be like other kids in her school. What started out as a youthful desire to fit in became an addiction to cigarettes, and soon she was smoking about a pack of menthol cigarettes a day. Tiffany’s story is all too common in African American communities, which have been disproportionately targeted by menthol cigarette marketing and advertisements, especially in cities.

Tobacco companies use advertisements, giveaways, and cheaper prices for menthol cigarettes to increase appeal. Menthol products are given more shelf space in retail outlets in neighborhoods that have more residents who are African American and are from other racial and ethnic minority groups. Targeted marketing from tobacco companies puts African American people at higher risk of smoking and becoming addicted to nicotine, as well as the risk of smoking related disease and death. Now, there is an opportunity to do something about it.

This year, on May 15th, national organizations and faith communities are marking the day as No Menthol Sunday to educate people who smoke menthol cigarettes about their harmful effects and encourage them to quit.

Tiffany: You Don’t Quit Just for Yourself

Tiffany talks about losing her mother, who smoked, to lung cancer when Tiffany was just 16 years old. Despite this, Tiffany smoked menthol cigarettes for years before realizing what she might miss in her own daughter’s life.

In this video from CDC’s Tips From Former Smokers® campaign, Tiffany’s daughter, Jaelin, says she cannot imagine living without her mother. Jaelin goes on to tell her mom how proud she is of her for quitting smoking for good.

No Menthol Sunday

No Menthol Sundayexternal icon, an annual observance led by the Center for Black Health & Equity, is an opportunity to engage faith leaders and their communities in a discussion about how to improve health and reduce health disparities for African American people. One way to improve health is to encourage people who smoke tobacco products to quit.

Tobacco product use remains a major contributor to the three leading causes of death among African American people – heart disease, cancer, and stroke. On No Menthol Sunday, faith leaders encourage congregations and communities to support one another in escaping tobacco addiction. They also highlight the role flavored tobacco products, including menthol, have played in starting to use tobacco and becoming addicted to it.

What Is Menthol?

Menthol is a chemical compound found naturally in peppermint and similar plants. It can also be produced in a lab. Menthol in cigarettes creates a cooling sensation in the throat and airways when the user inhales, making cigarette smoke feel less harsh and taste more appealing.

Tobacco companies market menthol cigarettes as “smoother” than other cigarettes, but they are just as harmful. In 2013, FDA found they are likely a greater risk to public health than non-menthol cigarettes.

Menthol cigarettes can be more addictive than non-menthol cigarettes.

Menthol Use

Targeted marketing of menthol cigarettes and other factors have contributed to tobacco-related health disparities across the United States for decades. African American people likely have higher percentages of menthol cigarette smoking in part because the tobacco industry has aggressively marketed menthol products to them.

  • Approximately 81% of Black adults who smoked used menthol cigarettes.1
  • Approximately 58% of Black youth ages 12-17 who smoked used menthol cigarettes.
  • A higher percentage of Black adults (93%) than White adults (44%) who smoke started by using menthol cigarettes.2

Menthol and Quitting

Although Black people try to quit smoking more often than White people, they are often less successful. And people who smoke menthol cigarettes may have more difficulty quitting smoking than people who smoke non-menthol cigarettes. This could be because menthol enhances the effects of nicotine in the brain.

Tiffany made many attempts to quit smoking, but it wasn’t until her own daughter was 16 that she made the connection to her mother and attempted to quit. “I didn’t want my daughter to think, ‘Wow, my mother loves cigarette smoking more than she cares about me,’” says Tiffany. Her biggest and most enduring motivation has been her daughter.

Tiffany made many changes in her life to make sure she quit for good, including:

  • Setting a specific date to quit smoking.
  • Reaching out to family and friends for support.
  • Changing her morning ritual to enjoy an extra hour of sleep instead of smoking and drinking coffee.
  • Drinking water and exercising more often.
  • Carrying a picture of her mother to remind her of everything her mother went through and her death from lung cancer.
  • Using a nicotine patch and reading and following all the instructions.

Tiffany quickly discovered that without cigarettes, she had more energy and stamina. Her family and friends sent cards of encouragement, helped her keep a positive attitude, and called and reminded her of all the reasons to never smoke again.

How Can I Quit Smoking?

While quitting smoking can be a challenge, it’s one of the most important steps you can take to improve your health. Quitting smoking reduces your risk of heart disease, cancer, lung disease, and other smoking-related illnesses.

To start your quit-smoking journey, make a plan. Your plan can include proven treatments to help you quit, like counseling and medicines. Using counseling and medicine together gives you the best chance of quitting for good.

To help patients quit smoking, health care providers must ensure equitable access to and promote barrier-free cessation services and medicines.

Evidence-based treatment—including counseling and cessation medicines approved by the FDA—significantly increases the chance of success in quitting tobacco.

Resources for Quitting

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  1. The terms Black/African American refer to non-Hispanic people of African descent living in the United States. When the single terms “Black,” “non-Hispanic, Black,” are used, this corresponds with how terms are used in corresponding published research studies.
  2. White refers to non-Hispanic people of Caucasian descent living in the United States. When the single terms “White,” “non-Hispanic, White,” are used, this corresponds with how terms are used in corresponding published research studies.