Intern Lily Deware: Black Lives Targeted
Vermont has eliminated many flavored tobacco products, but the menthol flavor has yet to be taken off the market. According to research on substance-use by population and investigation into marketing tactics, the varying flavors, including menthol, were created in an effort to entice younger populations, especially the African American community and other historically disenfranchised communities. Not only are menthol flavored products just as addictive as non-flavored products, but menthol reinforces smoking behavior and makes cigarettes easier to smoke, leading to more difficulty quitting. Because of this ‘cooling effect,’ statistics have shown that about 54% of youth who smoke cigarettes smoke menthol flavored ones. Of this 54%, 7/10 of these youth are people of color smoking menthol flavored products, adding to the 85% of African American smokers who smoke menthol flavored products, as well. Along with this, black adults reported the highest percentages of flavored/menthol flavored product use as compared to other racial identities. Because this percentage is higher, rates of lung cancer, fatal coronary heart disease, and other related health complications is statistically higher within the African American community. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is being sued by the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC) because of their failure to see this problem. Unfortunately, these racial inequities continue to be overlooked and people of color are targeted audiences for such products.
For reasons such as the lack of good healthcare, less information about the products being sold, and the fewest resources available, big tobacco businesses target African American communities and other communities made up of minority identities. Without adequate healthcare, information, and resources, these targeted consumers are more likely to become addicted and the companies will profit. Big businesses have been able to accomplish this because of their use of black actors in commercials, advertisements, and movies, the incorporation of stereotypically African American lexicon in advertisements, having said companies sponsor African American populated events, and the overall predatory marketing that can be most starkly seen in the amount and type of advertisements in communities in which people of color live; the higher population of African American people means the more advertisements for tobacco products. This systemic racism is [becoming increasingly recognized as a social justice issue].Recently, most flavors of tobacco products have been deemed illegal to sell. Although there were once over 15,000 different flavors of tobacco products targeting youth, menthol remains on the market. Biological studies have shown that nicotine is stored in the same tissue that contains melanin in the human body. This means that the darker a person's skin is, the more nicotine they store. By targeting the black community, big businesses are putting the health and safety of these communities at an even higher risk than other smokers. Menthol products may appear to be less harmful because they are easier to smoke, but in reality they are even more dangerous because of the addictive potential they have.