Menthol ban aimed at Black smokers; high profile moms, activists agree

After tobacco companies targeted Black communities and enticed Black consumers to smoke menthol cigarettes, i.e., first Kools, then Newports and finally Parliament menthol, congress is looking to end the madness and ban menthol cigarettes. The U.S. Surgeon General’s warning printed on the side of all packages as well as all the anti-smoking messages and ads

According to the New York Times, “Black smokers smoke less but die of heart attacks, strokes and other causes linked to tobacco use at higher rates than white smokers do, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And 85 percent of Black smokers use Newport, Kool and other menthol brands that are easier to become addicted to and harder to quit than plain tobacco, according to the Food and Drug Administration.”

But opponents of the move to ban menthol cigarettes express concern that the measure also has racial implications and may in fact exacerbate racial profiling and 

“Covid-19 exposed the discriminatory treatment that Black people have been facing for hundreds of years,” Dr. Phillip Gardiner, a co-chairman of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC) told the Times. The AATCLC has been pushing for menthol bans, calling menthol cigarettes and cigarillos “main vectors” of disease and death among Black Americans.

“We urge you to carefully consider any bill that seeks to ban menthol cigarettes,” Gwendolyn Carr, the mother of Eric Garner; and Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, wrote in a letter to New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson.


Carr’s son Garner, a Black man, died as a result of a police encounter for allegedly selling single cigarettes outside a store on Staten Island, New York. Garner was put in a chokehold by a New York police officer, and told the officer 11 times that he was unable to breath.

Garner died a short time later.

Fulton’s son, Trayvon, was shot and killed in Sanford, Florida, by neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman, who had racially profiled the 17-year-old.

Carr and Fulton stated that they don’t encourage, support, or promote smoking. “I’m not a smoker. I’ve never smoked. I don’t condone smoking,” Carr stated. “But this is going to affect a lot of people in very negative ways.”

They contend the law would introduce another version of the infamous stop-and-frisk policing in Black financially challenged communities.

The ban is certain to lead to more adversarial contact between law enforcement and the African American community, said Major Neill Franklin, the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition – or LEAP.

Civil Rights Attorney Benjamin L. Crump has said a ban on menthol cigarettes would be another “tool for law enforcement to target African Americans.”

NNPA President and CEO Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. praised Carr and Fulton for their “courageous letter.”

Chavis also decried the proposed menthol ban.

“This joint public courageous statement from the mothers of Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin is critical to Black America given the current climate of fatal interactions between law enforcement officials and other persons acting under the color of law. This policy is detrimental to Black Americans intergenerationally across the nation,” Chavis stated.

“Racial profiling should be illegal in any form or policy. Now, the consequence of ‘smoking menthol cigarettes while Black’ will be another pretense.

“And, it will be an ‘unintended consequence’ of bad public policy that will result in negative interactions between law enforcement and Black America.”

Chavis continued:

“The NNPA opposes the proposed menthol ban in New York City because it is racially targeted against Black Americans who culturally and socially prefer menthol cigarettes over non-menthol cigarettes. This is not about promoting smoking.

“This is about preventing another racially-motivated ban similar to the infamous and devastating NYC ‘Stop-and-Frisk’ policy. Thus, the NNPA joins with NOBLE, and with NAN and the mothers of Eric Garner and Trayvon Martin in calling on the New York City council to oppose this bad racist public policy proposal accordingly.

“Racism in all forms must be opposed.”

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