Clarence Page: A ban on menthol cigarettes? It’s about time
The Food and Drug Administration’s new plan to ban sales of menthol-flavored cigarettes reminded me, as so much of life does, of an often-quoted scene in “The Godfather.”
In a discussion by mob leaders of the rising and risky business of illegal drug trafficking, boss Don Giuseppe declares: “In my city, we would keep the traffic in the dark people, the colored. They’re animals anyway, so let them lose their souls.”
No objections are raised to his language or his logic. I know that we African Americans can be no less paranoid than any other historically exploited group but, as that scene from “The “Godfather” reminds us, some conspiracies are real.
That’s not to say I believe tobacco companies set out to poison Black Americana with their product. All I know is that they set out to make a profit and we just happened to disproportionately become addicted to their products.
I know firsthand. I was addicted to cigarettes, beginning with menthols, for several decades until an uncle’s death from lung cancer persuaded me that, yes, it was time for me to quit.
African American men have the nation’s highest rates of lung cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
After decades of incremental moves by health officials to put a pinch on other forms of tobacco consumption, the FDA on Thursday announced a plan to ban sales of menthol-flavored cigarettes and cigars.
The ban is expected to have its biggest impact on Black smokers, nearly 85% of whom happen to smoke menthols, according to a government survey, compared with nearly 47% of Hispanic smokers, 38% for Asian smokers and nearly 29% of white smokers.
It’s about time. Public health officials and Black health advocates have long sought a menthol ban. The landmark Tobacco Control Act of 2009 gave the FDA authority to regulate tobacco products but curiously exempted menthol from tobacco flavors that would be banned.
That omission occurred despite evidence that menthol was particularly appealing to Black smokers and young people who were just beginning to take up the pernicious habit. About half of teenage smokers told survey takers that they smoked menthols.