A coalition of religious, government and educational leaders met on Friday morning to call attention to the dangers of menthol-flavored tobacco products and to urge the public to avoid using such products next Sunday.
Katherine Donald, executive director of the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Arkansas, told about 20 people gathered in the downtown plaza that tobacco products were deadly.
âTobacco is still the # 1 killer of African Americans,â Donald said. “If you think of murder, suicide, accidents, HIV / AIDS, if you count all of those things, tobacco kills more people every year.”
âNo Menthol Sunday,â as it is called, is a day that is observed internationally to raise awareness of menthol cigarettes and tobacco products. The event is run by the Center for Black Health and Equity, an organization whose goal is to promote health programs and services for people of African descent, according to its website.
Donald was followed by several other speakers who said menthol flavored tobacco products are aimed at young people and African Americans and the aroma makes it easier to use and harder to quit.
Joe Brown, who is an alumnus of Holy Temple Church in Little Rock and calls himself a “man who smokes,” said that 85% of African Americans who use tobacco have menthol flavor. He said people remember menthol being used in a rub as a home remedy for respiratory problems and the tobacco industry continued to use the aroma “as a way to mask the harshness of tobacco.”
âI call on all churches to educate and eradicate menthol flavored tobacco products,â he said.
Pebbles Fagan, professor and director of the Center for the Study of Tobacco at the University of Arkansas’ Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health for Medical Sciences, said menthol-flavored tobacco products should have been banned in the Tobacco Control Act of 2009.
âWe need to protect our children from this evil in the same way we protect our children from covid-19,â Fagan said, adding that tobacco purchases were particularly harmful from an economic point of view because the money spent tobacco in poor households was added to that of a family. food insecurity.
State Representative Vivian Flowers (D-Pine Bluff) said she was a bit shocked because she believed African Americans and other communities were making strides against the use of tobacco products menthol flavored. After listening to a Zoom meeting on Thursday, she realized the opposite.
âWe are not doing good,â she said. “We are not well.”
Flowers said internal documents, made public in the 1990s, cited a tobacco executive who was asked if he smoked his own company cigarettes. “He said, ‘I don’t smoke this* * *; we just sell it. We reserve the right to smoke for the young, the black, the poor and the stupid, âFlowers said, citing the documents.
Flowers has called the current laws that allow the addition of mint flavor to tobacco products “blatantly racist, blatantly unhealthy and blatantly wrong,” adding that the current regulations that allow these products are similar to Tuskegee’s study on tobacco. syphilis, in which adult men with syphilis have been studied without their knowledge.
“This is what injustice looks like in the 21st century,” said Flowers, who urged her listeners to be aware of the problem and become “town criers” by contacting elected officials and calling for changes in the law.
African Americans aren’t the only population tobacco companies market to, said Flowers, “but we’re just targeting the worst.”
âEveryone has a role to play,â she said. “Now let’s go.”
A rule change may not be far off. In late April, the United States Food and Drug Administration announced that it had committed to creating new regulations that would ban menthol as a tobacco flavoring in cigarettes and cigars.
“Banning menthol – the last flavor allowed – in cigarettes and banning all flavors in cigars will help save lives, especially among those disproportionately affected by these deadly products,” the commissioner said. Acting FDA, Dr. Janet Woodcock, according to the FDA website. “Through these measures, the FDA will help dramatically reduce youth initiation, increase the odds of smoking cessation among current smokers, and address health disparities in communities of color, low-income populations and LGBTQ + people, all of whom are much more likely to use these tobacco products. Together, these actions represent powerful scientific approaches that will have an extraordinary impact on public health. Based on solid scientific evidence and with the full support of the administration, we believe these actions will set us on a path to ending tobacco-related illness and death in the United States. “
Several local pastors also spoke at the event and said they will speak to their congregations this Sunday to avoid menthol-flavored tobacco products and avoid all tobacco products in general.