Leading Public Health Experts Agree: Menthol Ban Could Save Hundreds of Thousands of Lives
WASHINGTON, May 12, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Today, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration continues to weigh a potential menthol ban, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Public Health Association, Center for American Progress and Legacy® called for menthol cigarettes to be taken off the market, citing key findings published today in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH). New studies show that not only could a ban prevent up to 600,000 smoking-related premature deaths by 2050, a third of those from the African American community alone, but a ban is supported by a majority of Americans (56 percent), particularly African Americans (76 percent) who were found to be disproportionately affected.
For decades, the tobacco industry has heavily marketed menthol cigarettes to minorities, and, as a result, the menthol smoking rates among these communities are disproportionately high; 80 percent of African Americans who smoke, smoke menthol cigarettes. "With the momentum of this new research and public support for a ban on menthol, now is the time for the FDA to finally act on this important issue. Tobacco is not an equal-opportunity killer, and the link between menthol smoking and African Americans cannot be overemphasized, nor can it be overlooked," said a senior author on all four studies, Dr. David Abrams, executive director of the Schroeder Institute for Tobacco Research and Policy Studies at Legacy – the organization responsible for commissioning and supporting this new research.
"The American Journal of Public Health is proud to publish this important research at such an opportune time," said Dr. Georges Benjamin, Executive Director of the American Public Health Association (APHA). "The consensus of responsible scientists now strongly confirms that menthol flavorings lure youth to start smoking and then make it harder for menthol smokers to quit. We believe, as the majority of Americans do, and the Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee (TPSAC) has advised the FDA, menthol cigarettes pose a significant public health threat and they should be taken off the market," he said.
"The publication of these studies in the American Journal of Public Health make urgent the need for action to protect the health of Americans – including the health of our young minority citizens – from the adverse health consequences of tobacco, including menthol-flavored cigarettes," said Dr. Louis Sullivan, former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.
African Americans are further disadvantaged – as one study in the issue found –because though more menthol smokers try to stop, fewer are successful at quitting, especially African Americans. "For too long, African Americans have fallen victim to the tobacco industry's shameless marketing tactics to sell menthol products," said John Payton, who leads the NAACP's Legal Defense Fund. "It is time the leaders at the FDA use the authority vested in them and take the bold steps necessary to get menthol tobacco products off the shelves and protect the health and save the lives of more African Americans."
One of those articles reported key findings from the American Academy of Pediatrics' annual Social Climate Survey. "Our nationally representative survey data show that more than half of all
Americans and as many as three quarters of all African Americans, who have the highest rates of menthol use, support banning menthol," said Dr. Jonathan Klein, Director of the Julius B. Richmond Center at the American Academy of Pediatrics. "A majority of African-American smokers support a menthol ban."
These new findings build on a recent National Cancer Institute study which found that if menthol cigarettes were no longer sold, 39 percent of all menthol smokers, including nearly half of all African American menthol smokers (47 percent), said they would quit using tobacco completely rather than switch brands.
LGBT Americans, who like African Americans have been found to have disproportionately high menthol smoking rates, have also been long-targeted by tobacco industry advertising, as a newly released brief, "Flavored Disease and Death for Minorities: Why the FDA Must Ban Menthol Cigarettes," from the Center for American Progress shows. "LGBT individuals and African Americans cannot continue to bear the brunt of smoking related diseases," said Aisha Moodie-Mills, Advisor for LGBT Policy & Racial Justice at the Center for American Progress. "Menthol-flavoring is a gateway into a lifetime of smoking and smoking-related diseases, especially for African American and gay and transgender youth who smoke menthol cigarettes at the highest rates. For decades tobacco companies have preyed upon these populations, and these communities are paying the price. The FDA scientific advisory committee has concluded that removing menthol from the marketplace will save lives, and that should be our highest priority."
Joseph A. Califano, Jr., Chairman and Founder of The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare urges "the FDA to ban menthol flavoring which the tobacco industry has used to exploit children and African-Americans in order to bolster the industry's profits."
"Once again – as expected – the tobacco industry has come forward to challenge the strength of the science with the intent of obfuscating the facts just long enough to bolster cigarette sales at the expense of public health," he said.
One of the commentary authors, Cheryl G. Healton, DrPH, president and CEO of Legacy, the national public health foundation devoted to keeping young people from smoking and helping all smokers quit, agreed. "As the commentary in the May issue of AJPH underscores, the evidence backing a menthol ban is sound science and consistent with the language in the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. The tobacco industry for too long has cloaked their arguments in dubious challenges dating back to the release of the 1964 Surgeon General's report. For 30 years, the industry questioned this report before finally agreeing that the scientific evidence was sufficient to conclude that smoking was responsible for the massive lung cancer epidemic of the 20th century," she said.
The FDA is currently reviewing TPSAC's conclusion that the public health would benefit from a menthol ban. An initial response is expected in mid-June 2011.
Legacy is dedicated to building a world where young people reject tobacco and anyone can quit. Located in Washington, D.C., the national public health organization helps American live longer, healthier lives. Legacy develops programs that address the health effects of tobacco use, especially among vulnerable populations disproportionately affected by the toll of tobacco, through grants, technical assistance and training, partnerships, youth activism, and counter-marketing and grassroots marketing campaigns. The foundation's programs include truth®, a national youth smoking prevention campaign that has been cited as having contributed to significant declines in youth smoking; EX®, an innovative public health program designed to speak to smokers in their own language and change the way they approach quitting; and research initiatives exploring the causes, consequences and approaches to reducing tobacco use. The American Legacy Foundation was created as a result of the November 1998 Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) reached between attorneys general from 46 states, five U.S. territories and the tobacco industry. Visit http://www.legacyforhealth.org/.