Since 2009, the tobacco industry has been prohibited from selling flavored cigarettes in the United States (excepting menthol). Since then, there has been an explosion of sweet-flavored other tobacco products, especially e-cigarettes, cigars, and cigarillos. These products are available in a wide assortment of flavors that seem like they belong in a candy store or ice cream parlor – like gummy bear, cotton candy, peanut butter cup, cookies ‘n cream and pop rocks for e-cigarettes and chocolate, wild berry, watermelon, lemonade and cherry dynamite for cigars.
Flavors improve the taste and reduce the harshness of tobacco products, making them more appealing and easier for beginners – usually kids – to try the product and ultimately become addicted. Since most tobacco users start before age 18, flavored tobacco products play a critical role in the industry’s marketing playbook. Flavors can also create the impression that a product is less harmful than it really is. Of all kids who have ever used tobacco, 81% of them started with a flavored product. To make matters worse, the photo above shows the striking similarities between the packaging of tobacco products and the packaging of candy. Can YOU tell the difference?
The problem with menthol: Cool, minty and toxic
The evidence is clear: menthol in tobacco products is a public health risk.
In 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a report finding that menthol cigarettes lead to increased smoking initiation among youth and young adults, greater addiction, and decreased success in quitting smoking. The cooling and anesthetic effect of menthol makes mentholated tobacco products more appealing to youth. Menthol smokers can inhale more deeply and hold the smoke in the lungs longer, thereby getting more exposure to the dangerous chemicals in cigarette smoke. As a result, menthol smokers show significantly higher levels of nicotine addiction compared with non-menthol smokers in the same age group, increasing the health risk of tobacco use for menthol users and making quitting more difficult.
Menthol cigarettes are also disproportionately marketed to African Americans. This helps explain why more than 80% of African American smokers smoke mentholated products and, as a result, suffer disproportionate health effects of tobacco use. The increased risks associated with mentholated tobacco use led the NAACP to recently recommend that the FDA ban menthol in cigarettes.
The documentary below, Black Lives, Black Lungs, explores the history, marketing tactics and impact of the tobacco industry targeting African Americans with menthol products.
Restrict the sale of flavored tobacco products, including menthol. Learn more at the Tobacco Legal Consortium’s website. Learn about Chicago’s success in regulating flavored tobacco products, including menthol.