How a ban on menthol cigarettes could impact communities of color

CHICAGO (WLS) -- A new effort by the Food and Drug Administration could help save lives. The FDA is moving to ban menthol cigarettes, citing the disproportionate impact of tobacco use on African Americans.

Lisa Ganious, who works at a Chicago area hospital, smoked menthol cigarettes for 30 years. At least until a heart attack a year ago.

That's when she finally decided to try and quit.

"It is smoother and tastes better and it has a highly addictive form to it," said Ganious.

Like a lot of beginning smokers, Ganious said the menthol flavor drew her to cigarettes.

RELATED: US vows again to ban menthol flavor in cigarettes, cigars

Advocacy groups have sued tobacco companies claiming they target menthol cigarettes specifically to the African American community.

Among African American smokers, 80% smoke menthol, according to the Respiratory Health Association. They also added that there are more cases of lung cancer among African American men than any other ethnic group.

"This is a 30 year fight we've been doing trying to stop them from this predatory marketing," said Delmonte Jefferson of the Center for Black Health.

Now, activists are celebrating the FDA's announcement Thursday that they are moving to ban menthol cigarettes and all flavored cigars within the next year.

Former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, with strong lobbying by the Respiratory Health Association, led the effort nearly eight years ago to limit the sale of menthol cigarettes in the city.

"What that means, if you ban menthol, the greatest health benefit among African American men," said Joel Africk, CEO of the RHA.

Anti-smoking advocates said menthol cigarettes are partly responsible for tens of thousands of cancer deaths in the last several decades. Without menthol as an option, according to one study, nearly a million smokers will soon quit.

An earlier study also projected a ban on menthol cigarettes would save 633,000 lives, including the lives of 237,000 African Americans.
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