Ending the sale of menthol cigarettes key to tackling racial health disparities

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Rachel Talbot Ross is the Deputy Majority Leader in the Maine House of Representatives and represents a Portland party in the 40 House District.

The combined effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and the epidemic of systemic racism on our health, economy and humanity have felt relentless and often overwhelming. Nonetheless, I have found hope in many unexpected places, including working with my colleagues in the Maine Legislature to assess and dismantle some of the most egregious systems that have perpetuated health disparities and generational poverty.

In this process of unraveling these long-standing harmful policies and practices, it can be difficult to find the commonalities – the starting knots, intentional or not, that created a tangle of inequities – by income, by race, by hometown, by gender and by many other social and cultural factors. One such common thread is the tobacco control policy.

It would be difficult to name another widely available commercial product that has caused more fatal harm to black Americans than menthol cigarettes. For decades the tobacco industry has been market menthol cigarettes consistently and relentlessly to black Americans, especially youth and young adults, with community and musical event sponsorships, free samples, and cheaper prices in black communities.

In the 1950s, less than 10 percent black adults who smoked used menthol cigarettes. Today, after decades of predatory targeting of the tobacco industry, that number is 85 percent. It is absolutely no accident.

Tobacco use is the cause n ° 1 preventable deaths among black Americans, killing 45,000 each year. Black Americans die at higher rates than any other racial or ethnic group in the United States from diseases such as Cancer, heart disease and stroke. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the black community.

And now black Americans have been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has found that smoking increases the risk of serious illness from COVID-19. Smoking is also a major cause of underlying illnesses like heart disease and diabetes which disproportionate impact on black Americans and make them more vulnerable to the COVID-19 pandemic.

So when it comes to justice and equity, strong tobacco control policies are essential to eliminate the disparities created and perpetuated by the tobacco industry. This legislative session, my colleagues and I have the possibility of ending the sale of all flavored tobacco products in Maine. In doing so, we will come together to say that it is enough to make menthol tobacco products kill black people. This day is long overdue.

As the vote on this transformative legislation draws near, the tobacco industry will say and do almost anything to continue selling its menthol products, which are so essential to its success in attracting and creating a new generation of tobacco users. . They are ruthless and unashamed, often coming full circle in their arguments to feign deep concern and concern for the very communities they have targeted.

In recent weeks, the tobacco industry has painted a dark picture criminal gangs, operating illegal menthol cigarette markets in towns large and small across Maine. At the same time, they Claim that a ban on flavored tobacco products would put blacks increased risk of being targeted and unfairly attacked by the police for appearing to possess menthol cigarettes.

The point is, Maine law does not criminalize the possession or use of tobacco products. The same would apply to any future federal regulations (FDA) on menthol cigarettes. So no matter how you hear this convoluted story of gangs and police violence, the tobacco industry stirs fear and casts doubt in order to change the narrative of its deliberate predation on young people, especially our black and brown children.

Ending the sale of menthol cigarettes is essential in addressing racial disparities in health. This policy aims to give the next generation of children in Maine – all children in Maine – the opportunity for good health and a productive future, free from nicotine addiction.

To achieve true health equity and advance racial justice, we cannot avoid confronting the tobacco industry and reforming our tobacco control policies. We can start by ending the sale of menthol and all flavored tobacco products in Maine.

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