Earlier than I used to be a dentist, I used to be a toddler who typically spent her time studying “Jet” journal. “Jet” was the popular culture journal geared towards descendants of American slavery — the vast majority of Black People. In each concern, there have been full-page adverts of gorgeous Black individuals smoking menthol cigarettes. From taking out ads in Black media to sponsoring Black group occasions to promoting cheaper-priced cigarettes in Black neighborhoods, the tobacco trade’s concentrating on of Black People with predatory advertising of menthol cigarettes is well-documented.
Equally well-documented are the devastating outcomes.
At the moment, greater than 8 out of 10 Black American adults who smoke use menthol cigarettes. And Black Americans die at higher rates than some other racial or ethnic group within the U.S. from tobacco-related illnesses equivalent to most cancers, coronary heart illness, and stroke.
Why menthol? Menthol numbs the mouth and throat, masking the cruel style and making it simpler to begin utilizing tobacco. Menthol additionally makes the smoke simpler to inhale extra deeply and individuals who use menthol cigarettes present greater signs of nicotine addiction and are less likely to successfully quit.
The tobacco trade’s legacy of aggressive advertising to marginalized populations just isn’t restricted to the Black group. Tobacco firms have preyed upon individuals with psychological sickness, individuals with low incomes, and in all circumstances, youngsters and younger adults. As a result of human brains proceed to develop till age 26, younger persons are extraordinarily inclined to nicotine dependancy. Following this tried-and-true playbook, the tobacco trade has additionally preyed upon people who find themselves lesbian, homosexual, bisexual, trans and queer.
The LGBTQ group’s excessive charge of smoking can’t be defined with out accounting for the cynical and aggressive advertising by tobacco firms. In California within the Nineties, the trade’s technique was to push cigarettes to communities that their executives held apparent disdain for, significantly homosexual males and homeless individuals. Their marketing campaign was known as “subculture city advertising,” abbreviated by no coincidence as SCUM. They sponsored Pleasure Month occasions and took out adverts in “Out” journal. They manufactured the narrative that to be younger and homosexual or trans was to even be a smoker.
When the CDC launched new information on the unequal affect of COVID-19, their findings confirmed what I and different members of the LGBTQ group had thought. LGBTQ individuals had been extra more likely to contract and endure extreme signs of COVID-19. We endure disproportionately from bronchial asthma, power obstructive pulmonary illness, strokes, coronary heart illness, and hypertension — situations all related to extreme COVID-19. Tobacco trade concentrating on places us at better threat for different harmful well being situations.
Understanding that the youthful technology overwhelmingly chooses flavors (four out of five kids who’ve used tobacco began with a flavored product), the trade pushes every thing from menthol to cotton sweet to crème brûlée-flavored tobacco to addict the subsequent technology. There are actually over 15,000 flavored tobacco merchandise in the marketplace.
Tobacco smoke destroys cells on the microscopic stage and damages our DNA. This results in better cases of extreme problems that, as a dentist, I’m sadly very acquainted with — infections, gum illness, tooth loss, and oral most cancers. The surge in youth tobacco consumption will make these well being issues extra widespread. And that surge is being pushed overwhelmingly by menthol, mint, and sweet flavored tobacco merchandise that the trade markets to youngsters.
The skilled consensus on the harms posed by menthol and different flavored cigarettes is unambiguous. The American Medical Association and the American Dental Association advocate ending the sale of all flavored tobacco merchandise due to their well-documented hurt to public well being.
Our legislators could have their finest probability but to handle this through the present legislative session.
LD 1550, sponsored by Rep. Michele Meyer of Eliot, will lastly finish the sale of flavored tobacco merchandise in Maine. It takes a large step towards eliminating well being disparities amongst Black and brown, indigenous, LGBTQ, and different marginalized communities. Getting flavored tobacco off the shop cabinets will give all Maine youngsters a good shot at a wholesome, productive future, free from tobacco dependancy.
Dr. Florence S. Edwards, DDS, is a dentist training in Auburn and Topsham, and a board member of EqualityMaine and Coded By Younger Ladies of Shade.