Is Big Tobacco color blind?
Dr. Louis W. Sullivan, former secretary of health and human services under President George H.W. Bush, for one, doesn’t think so.
Sullivan says it’s no accident so many black smokers are hooked.
"You go into convenience stores in the black community, and you see these ads plastered all over the windows and doors about Kools and Camel menthol cigarettes," says Sullivan, who is leading a recently launched campaign to get U.S. health authorities to ban menthol cigarettes. "When you go into a similar convenience store in a white community, you don’t see ads like that."
Each year, smoking-related illnesses kill more black Americans than AIDS, car crashes, murders and drug and alcohol abuse combined, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More than four in five black smokers choose menthol cigarettes, a far higher proportion than for other groups.
Menthol, found naturally in mint plants, brings a fresh, cooling sensation to smoking. By mitigating the harshness of cigarettes and numbing the throat, menthol makes smoking more palatable, easier to start—and harder to quit. These mellow effects have propagated the misconception that menthol cigarettes are less harmful than other cigarettes.
About a quarter of all cigarettes sold in the U.S. are menthol. As non-menthol cigarette use sharply declined between 2002 and 2010, menthol cigarette use among African-American smokers has soared from an already lofty 69 percent to 85 percent, according to a new white paper from CASAColumbia, a science-based organization affiliated with Columbia University that develops solutions for addiction.
Today, the proportion of black smokers who smoke menthol cigarettes is nearly three times that of white smokers. Many experts say the main reason for that is marketing. MORE