Today, Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation, a coalition of 60-plus organizations co-chaired by ClearWay Minnesota, released the following statement on the recent legal action against the U.S. Food & Drug Administration:
Ending Menthol Tobacco Sales Will Protect the Health and Lives of African Americans
Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation Urges Local, State and Federal Action to Prohibit the Sale of Menthol and All Flavored Tobacco Products
This week, the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council (AATCLC) and Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) announced a joint complaint against the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to compel the FDA to ban the sale of menthol tobacco products. Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation supports this bold action and urges all levels of government to protect the health and lives of African Americans by ending the sale of menthol tobacco products.
African Americans are unjustly affected by the addiction, death and disease associated with menthol tobacco use – a result of decades of targeting by the tobacco industry. Since 2010, menthol has been the only flavor of cigarette allowed on the U.S. marketplace, despite conclusive evidence that menthol tobacco causes great harm, especially among African Americans.
In announcing their lawsuit, national partners said:
“We stand before you today to announce that we are suing the United States Food and Drug Administration for their failure to implement public health policy that protects the health and welfare of African Americans with respect to menthol cigarettes,” said Carol McGruder, founding member and Co-Chair of the AATCLC. “Our mission is to save the 45,000 Black lives lost each year from tobacco-induced diseases and we have resolutely pursed that mission since our inception.”
“By continuing to delay, the FDA and the U.S. government are failing to protect the health of U.S. citizens, particularly African Americans, and the U.S. is also falling behind the global trend as countries around the world are increasingly banning menthol,” said Kelsey Romeo-Stuppy, Managing Attorney at ASH.
Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation, a coalition of more than 60 organizations that share a common goal of reducing youth smoking and ending tobacco’s harm for good, supports action to end the sale of flavored tobacco products – especially menthol products. The coalition is working to pass bold flavored tobacco restrictions in local communities and in the State Legislature. The current focus on Black lives and Black health – as well as the COVID-19 pandemic – adds urgency to these efforts.
“Prohibiting menthol tobacco products is one of the biggest steps we can take to improve the health and livelihood of Black people,” said LaTrisha Vetaw, Health Policy and Advocacy Manager for NorthPoint Health & Wellness Center and Co-Chair of the Menthol Coalition. “As we celebrate Juneteenth, let’s channel our energy toward protecting our Black brothers and sisters from menthol tobacco and a lifetime of addiction and suffering. The tobacco industry has targeted African Americans for far too long, and we can take that tool away by eliminating menthol tobacco products.”
Despite all Minnesota’s progress to reduce smoking among youth and adults, smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death and disease. Menthol flavoring makes it easier for kids to start smoking and harder for adults to quit. Fourteen percent of Minnesota adults still smoke and every year smoking kills more than 6,300 Minnesotans and costs residents over $7 billion in health care and lost productivity. The burden of tobacco use and disease remains unconscionably high in diverse communities, in large part because menthol tobacco products have been heavily marketed toward African Americans, LGBTQ, youth and other priority populations. Among African American smokers, 88 percent smoke menthol, compared to 22 percent of white smokers.
The FDA’s refusal to include menthol tobacco in its flavor ban is exacerbating these disparities and costing precious lives. Research estimates that if menthol had been banned in 2010 when all other flavors were disallowed, by 2050 there would be a 10 percent reduction in overall smoking prevalence and up to 633,252 lives would be saved, a third of whom would be African Americans.
In the absence of federal action, states and local governments have stepped up to protect their residents from menthol tobacco and other flavored products. Earlier this week, the City of Edina passed a policy to prohibit the sale of all flavored tobacco products. Edina is the fifth Minnesota community to completely prohibit the sale of all flavored tobacco products – joining Golden Valley, Mendota Heights, Lilydale and Arden Hills. In total, 16 Minnesota communities have restricted flavored tobacco products in some form including major cities – St. Paul, Minneapolis and Duluth – that restrict where menthol cigarettes can be sold.
Tobacco companies have shown that they will fight tooth and nail to block progress to protect residents from menthol tobacco. Just this week, Big Tobacco filed a suit against the City of Edina for passing a bold public health policy that prohibits menthol tobacco sales to save lives and reduce tobacco-related health disparities.
At the State Capitol, a bill to end the sale of all flavored tobacco products in Minnesota made significant progress in the House this session. The bill (HF3032), chief authored by Representative Laurie Halverson (DFL-Eagan), passed two committees and was ready for a House floor vote when the Legislature shifted its focus to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ending flavored tobacco sales is extremely popular among Minnesotans. A recent statewide poll found that 74 percent of Minnesotans support prohibiting the sales of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes. Support for this policy was high across demographics and regions, including among African Americans (77 percent support) and rural residents (81 percent support).
The time is now to unite against an industry that has profited off of addiction and disease disproportionately borne by African Americans and other marginalized communities. Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation is grateful for lawmakers, advocates and partner organizations that have stood up to Big Tobacco and pushed for bold action against menthol tobacco.
About Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation
Minnesotans for a Smoke-Free Generation is a coalition of more than 60 organizations that share a common goal of saving Minnesota youth from a lifetime of addiction to tobacco. The coalition supports policies that reduce youth smoking and nicotine addiction, including increasing tobacco prices, raising the tobacco sale age to 21, limiting access to candy-, fruit- and menthol-flavored tobacco, and funding tobacco prevention and cessation programs.
Partners include: The African American Leadership Forum, Allina Health, Allina Health | Aetna, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, American Heart Association, American Lung Association in Minnesota, Apple Tree Dental, Association for Nonsmokers – Minnesota, Aurora/St. Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation, Becker County Energized, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, A Breath of Hope Lung Foundation, Cancer Legal Care, CentraCare, Children’s Defense Fund-MN, Children’s Minnesota, ClearWay MinnesotaSM, Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio – CLUES, Dodge County Public Health, Education Minnesota, Essentia Health, Gillette Children’s Specialty Healthcare, A Healthier Southwest, HealthPartners, Hennepin Healthcare, Horizon Public Health, Indigenous Peoples Task Force, ISAIAH, JustUs Health, LAAMPP Alumni, Lake Region Healthcare, Local Public Health Association of Minnesota, LPCFC – Lincoln Park Children and Families Collaborative, March of Dimes, Masonic Cancer Center – University of Minnesota, Mayo Clinic, Medica, Meeker McLeod Sibley Community Health Services, Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians, Minnesota Association of Community Health Centers, Minnesota Cancer Alliance, Minnesota Council of Health Plans, Minnesota Dental Association, MHA – Minnesota Hospital Association, Minnesota Medical Association, Minnesota Nurses Association, Minnesota Oral Health Coalition, Minnesota Public Health Association, MNAAP – Minnesota Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, ModelCities, NAMI Minnesota, North Memorial Health, NorthPoint Health & Wellness, Olmsted Medical Center, Open Cities Health Center, PartnerSHIP 4 Health, Perham Health & Living, Preventing Tobacco Addiction Foundation, SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, ShiftMN, St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, Steele County Public Health, Tobacco-Free Alliance, Twin Cities Medical Society, UCare, Vision In Living Life – Change is Possible, WellShare International and Zumbro Valley Medical Society. Find out more at: smokefreegenmn.org.