I’m in the back of my parents’ red Ford Monarch. The sky is clear and the night air is still too warm for a jacket. My dad drives, and the smoke from his Kool Mild hits me like an anvil. I don’t have a seat belt. The window is half down. It looks like the moon is chasing our car.
It was in the 80s, when Bill Cosby was a god; back when cars were made like tanks and everyone had a phone at home. Back when cable was just a few channels, and a smoker could smoke anywhere: in the office, in restaurants, and if you were nice, even on a public bus. I saw it.
We were wild then; noto we cared at the time. Everyone seems to care now ― aon black lungs, on black health.
The government is considering banning menthol cigarettes, and II feel racist.
In 1925, Lloyd “Spud” Hughes didn’t feel so hot. He was an avid smoker, but he had caught a cold somewhere. One night he put his smoking tobacco next to his menthol crystals, and the next day menthol cigarettes were born.
Before that, cigarettes tasted like trash. But for some reason, white men and some white women still smoked them. It was a luxury item for rich people (remember those long, black cigarette holders from all those black and white movies? Looking at you, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”), and as such, black people don’t did not participate. Eventually, however, the cigarette companies realized something: because they weren’t targeting African Americans, black people weren’t smoking cigarettes.
When everything has changed. In the 1970s and 1980s, the creators of Kools began sponsoring jazz festivals and their advertisements started showing dimly lit images of a saxophonist. Even spelling “Kool” with a “K” was used to target black people, as it was hip talk at the time. Kool and Newports changed their marketing campaigns to aggressively target black people in the two most prominent African-American publications, Ebony and Jet, which reaches one-third of the adult black population. Almost a third of the advertisements in the two magazines were for cigarettes.
And it worked : Blacks have become the biggest users of menthol cigarettes.
In 1964, after researching some 7,000 items, Surgeon General Luther Terry concluded that smoking has led to lung cancer and heart disease. Would that be enough to remove the product from the market? No. Despite Terry’s insistence that the government do something about cigarettes, they continued to allow their sale. Oh wait, that’s not quite true. They issued a warning that appeared on the side of the packaging, acknowledging that smoking cigarettes is dangerous to health – but they didn’t do this until 1969, some five years after Terry’s discoveries. This language would be changed in 1984 after Congress enacted the Comprehensive Smoking Education Act of 1984which required that all cigarette packaging and advertising bear the following message: “WARNING FROM THE SURGEON GENERAL: Smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease, emphysema and may complicate pregnancy.”
This brings us to the Heckler report. Before 1985, no one really cared about race-based health disparities. Well, maybe they cared, but no one kept track of it until 1985, when US Health and Human Services Secretary Margaret Heckler released the Report of the Secretary’s Task Force on Black and Minority Healthmarking the first time the US government has considered whether race plays a role in health care.
One of the report’s most shocking findings was that some 60,000 additional deaths occur in the United States each year due to health disparities. That was about as close as America had come to admitting that racism exists in medical care. It was the first time that race and health care converged on a national stage. Inside the voluminous report was a finding that black people suffered more than their white counterparts from high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
If America had been able to do a study of this magnitude in 1985 (the task force was established in 1984 and the report was published the following year), surely they could have taken a look at the effects that menthol cigarettes had on black people, especially since menthol has long been said to make cigarettes easier to smoke and harder to quit. But this study would not be done before 1998. And t1998 Surgeon General’s ReportTobacco use among racial/ethnic minority groups in the United States” found a minor caveat that no one seemed to care about at the time.
“Black smokers smoke less but die of heart attacks, strokes and other smoking-related causes at higher rates than white smokers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” noted a New York Times article last year. “And 85% of black smokers use Newport, Kool and other brands of menthol that are easier to get addicted to and harder to quit than regular tobacco.”
This means that black smokers were more likely to smoke menthol cigarettes and, therefore, were more likely to die. America knew it in 1998. You want to know how long ago? Today, a child born in 1998 can drive a car, go to war, and legally buy and smoke menthol cigarettes. So we know, at the very least, that America was aware of the dangers of smoking menthol cigarettes about 24 years ago and did nothing to stop it.
But before seeing why the ban to prevent menthol cigarettes from delighting the black community suddenly occurs now, let’s look at the effects that menthol has had on the industry. Adding menthol to tobacco lessened the harsh taste and made cigarettes easier to smoke. So why not create all sorts of flavors to appeal to new smokers? Well, in recent years, flavored e-cigarettes have done just that, with new flavors like Gummy Bear, Funnel Cake, Fruit Punch, Berry Crunch Cereal, and Blueberry Lemonade. Surely it lasted a while, given how long menthol has been on the market?
No. Shortly after these flavors hit the market, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned them.
“The flavors attract them. Nicotine gets them addicted,” Matthew Myers, President of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, mentioned at the end of last year. “Without flavors, far fewer children would be attracted to these products – 85% of children who use an e-cigarette use a flavored one.”
But it wasn’t just the assortment of flavors. It was minty.
“Flavours are one of the main reasons young people are starting to use e-cigarettes,” an April 22 report from Truth Initiative bed. “Research shows that the use of mint and menthol e-cigarettes among high school users increased from 16% in 2016 to 57.3% in 2019. Among high school JUUL users, 67.5% said their favorite flavor was mint or menthol. Another study, conducted before JUUL pulled its other flavors from the market, found that mint was one of the most popular flavors among student JUUL users, but menthol was less so.
“The study authors warn that leaving mint and menthol flavors on the market undermines the goal of flavor suppression – which is to prevent children from using e-cigarettes,” the report notes. .
The white males are the most likely to use e-cigarettes.
You see what I mean ? No need to insist on the subject.
I have no memory of my father that isn’t darkened by the smoke of a Kool Mild. He never quit smoking. Not after two heart attacks, not after he stopped eating. My last memory of my father dates back to around my birthday. I took my kids to see it. He was fragile and could barely stand. He dragged himself to walk my family out of the house and waved as we left. I could see in my rearview mirror that he was lighting a cigarette.
The ban on menthol cigarettes is long overdue, but America knows it. Black lives have always been a by-product of white lives, our security a spin-off. That’s the impetus of the Black Lives Matter movement ― you know, the part that’s always left out, implicitly saying, “Don’t I matter too?