On May 19, communities across the country will join together for the 10th anniversary of No Menthol Sunday — The Center for Black Health & Equity’s annual call to action highlighting the detrimental impact tobacco has on Black communities.

Commercial tobacco use (the use of harmful products made and sold by tobacco companies) is the leading cause of preventable disease, disability, and death in the United States. However, the impact of commercial tobacco use is not equal among all populations.

Experts agree that certain communities are disproportionately affected by commercial tobacco use, such as:

  • those living in rural areas
  • military and veteran populations
  • LGBTQ populations
  • people with lower education and income levels
  • minority populations

No Menthol Sunday encourages action toward both the availability of menthol products and targeted tobacco industry tactics that contribute to health disparities among Black people.

Menthol products have an additive minty flavor and a cooling or painkilling effect when used. This can make smoking feel less harsh and can make menthol products more appealing.

At the same time, menthol cigarettes are often considered more addictive and harder to quit than non-menthol cigarettes, deepening the health impacts of commercial tobacco use.

Menthol products make up about a third of U.S. tobacco sales but are disproportionately marketed in Black communities, as well as among women and LGBTQ populations. These products are often marketed using predatory practices such as dense advertising, heavy discounts, and sampling in vulnerable communities.

New menthol-like products, known as “non-menthol” tobacco products, mimic traditional menthols but contain a different chemical additive with a similar cooling effect, and could increase the number of people affected by these products for years to come.

The burden of menthol use falls heavily on Black communities, with as many as 85% of Black smokers smoking menthol cigarettes — a health risk that contributes to this population having higher rates of smoking-related illnesses such as lung cancer, heart disease, and respiratory disorders.

According to the FDA’s 2021 proposal to ban the sale of menthol products, a menthol ban would save an estimated 633,000 lives across the country, including 237,000 Black lives.

Recognizing the impact of menthol products on minority populations, there have been calls for policies to address this issue.

In 2009, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act granted the FDA the authority to regulate tobacco products, including the authority to ban menthol cigarettes. However, decisive action has yet to be taken on this front, and the Biden administration indefinitely delayed implementing a long-awaited ban on menthol products in April 2024.

In recent years, many municipalities and the states of Massachusetts and California have implemented bans on selling menthol cigarettes and flavored tobacco products.

While these initiatives represent important steps forward, comprehensive federal action is needed to address the root causes of menthol’s disparate impact on minority communities.

Along with implementing strategies to eliminate the sale and predatory marketing practices of menthol products, efforts to move toward reducing tobacco-related disparities should include increasing free quit-smoking treatment services.

State tobacco quitlines offer free services such as phone-based counseling, text-based programs, and nicotine replacement therapies. Those living in eligible states may also have access to menthol-specific resources for additional support.

Anyone looking to quit using tobacco products can call 1-800-784-8669 (QUITNOW) for more information.