Juneteenth, commemorated this year as a federal holiday for the first time, marks the end of institutionalized slavery and the beginning of a long, hard road to equity and racial justice for Black Americans. Emancipation brought with it a promise of equality and liberty, a promise that suffers under the weight of continued systemic racism as evidenced by persistent inequities between white and Black Americans in employment, housing, education, health care and more.
Racial health disparities, further exacerbated by COVID-19, challenge us to intensify efforts to advance health equity by reducing the impact of tobacco use on Black Americans. The tobacco industry’s relentless targeting of Black Americans with advertising for menthol cigarettes has resulted in 85% of Black smokers using menthol (as compared to 29% of white smokers), thereby increasing their risk of nicotine addiction and making it harder for them to quit. Menthol use is a primary reason why more Black Americans die from cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes and other tobacco-related diseases despite smoking less.
Today, on Juneteenth, we recommit to promoting racial justice as a guiding principle and driving force in all of our tobacco control work and we call upon our community to support us in these efforts.