“certain groups remain disproportionately affected by tobacco products. In particular, menthol cigarettes continue to heavily impact minority populations including Black and Hispanic communities.” Antonio Palmer, Onondaga County Public Health Educator
In a time of numerous public health challenges, it’s truly a delight to witness progress. Smoking rates for tobacco cigarettes is at an all-time low nationwide. Local counties in Upstate New York have seen downward trends in smoking rates in recent years. According to the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH) Bureau of Tobacco Control, the percent of current adult smokers in Onondaga County decreased from 17 to 12 percent from 2018 to 2021. Neighboring counties have experienced similar successes in the same time period with Cayuga dropping from 21 to 18 percent and Oswego decreasing from 29 to 22 percent. This is a testament to the groundwork tobacco control initiatives and local communities have established to educate and raise awareness.
However, certain groups remain disproportionately affected by tobacco products. In particular, menthol cigarettes continue to heavily impact minority populations including Black and Hispanic communities. Menthol is a chemical byproduct of mint that is used in tobacco products to cover the unpleasant flavor, making them easier to use. Menthol itself is not harmful but it is used by tobacco companies to attract and ultimately trap unsuspecting consumers. According to the NYS Adult Tobacco survey, the prevalence of menthol cigarette use in Black (86%) and Hispanic (72%) smokers is significantly higher than in white smokers (36%). This directly contributes to the disparities in health outcomes for communities of color.
There is still much work left to be done. Ongoing campaigns such as “It’s Not Just” are committed to mobilizing communities to eliminate the threat of menthol cigarettes once and for all. The decision to excessively market and promote menthol cigarettes to minority groups and youth is not a coincidence. The time has come to truly knock the wind out of the sails of the tobacco industry. To join the conversation and learn ways to take action against menthol cigarettes, please visit https://notjustmenthol.org.
Public Health Educator
Tobacco Free CNY – Onondaga County Health Department