By Karen Stokes
On Friday, April 22, 2022, attorney Sharon Eubanks, Carol McGruder, Co-Chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC), and Mark Meaney, Deputy Director of Commercial Tobacco Control Law and Policy at Public Health Law Center led a virtual roundtable as part of the Menthol-Free Sunday Kickoff.
Bold Awareness-A Fight to the Finish is the theme for Menthol-Free Sunday, a national day of celebration that takes place on May 15, 2022.
“This fight represents the struggle of people who have tried to quit smoking and a fight for accountability from an industry that has targeted our community for decades with menthol products,” said Vivian King.
Menthol-Free Sunday led by the Center for Black Health and Equity and supported locally by the Wisconsin African American Tobacco Prevention Network is the day the faith community, residents, elected officials, tobacco retailers and others help take awareness of the impact of tobacco on black health, providing support for those trying to quit smoking, and raising awareness of menthol-related issues.
The ACLCLC and other groups successfully sued the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for failing to take action on menthol in 2020.
The FDA is expected to announce a new policy on menthol soon.
Smoking kills 45,000 African Americans a year and is a leading culprit of the leading causes of death: heart disease, diabetes and cancer. The most common tobacco product used by African Americans is the menthol cigarette. In fact, 9 out of 10 black smokers in Wisconsin smoke menthol cigarettes, compared to 4 out of 10 white smokers.
“We have a vision in Milwaukee County to be the healthiest county in the state of Wisconsin, which is why I support No Menthol Sunday as it serves as an opportunity for faith communities and for all of us to engage and to empower worshipers on critical menthol-related health issues,” County Executive David Crowley said.
The insightful and powerful panel discussion included personal stories of how smoking has affected them, their battles with the tobacco industry, and how menthol is targeted and disproportionately affects black and brown people.
“In the decision signed in 2009 to ban cigarette flavors, menthol was not included,” Eubanks said. It’s bad because the menthol makes it harder to quit smoking and makes it easier to let the smoke down while the harsh chemicals go down your throat.
85% of black smokers smoke menthol
46% of Hispanic smokers smoke menthol
39% of Asian smokers smoke menthol
“Systemic racism is hidden from people, especially white people,” Meaney said. “The tobacco industry continues to exacerbate health disparities. The goal is to eliminate the menthol.
The panel agreed that the community should be active and supportive of efforts to lead healthy lives.
“It’s great that organizations, not just lawyers, are involved in these issues because these issues are about people. Be alert, move forward, ask questions, get answers. People power exists, use it,” Eubanks said.
“This is our year,” McGruder said. “Get involved, it’s a long fight.