Anti-tobacco groups in Mississippi and across the country are observing "No Menthol Sunday" this weekend as part of their efforts to turn people away from smoking and highlight how menthol-flavored cigarettes harm public health.
Anti-smoking groups to observe "No Menthol Sunday" as hopes for national ban continue
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, one in five Mississippi adults smoked cigarettes in 2019 and 5,400 Mississippians die from smoking-related illnesses each year.
While getting smokers to give up menthol for one day would be a small victory, advocates are hoping for a much larger one: the ban of menthol flavored cigarettes.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed banning menthol flavored cigarettes in April of 2022, and a final rule on the issue is expected to be published later this year.
While nicotine addiction is the root cause of smoking cigarettes, taking menthol products off the market would be an important first step in reducing smoking rates in Mississippi, according to Andre Nathaniel, Project Director of the Hinds County Tobacco Free Coalition.
“By them not having that menthol flavor they're used to they say 'what's the use of me smoking?' and so that's why I think that it would get the ball rolling."
Delmonte Jefferson, Executive Director of The Center for Black Health and Equity, believes a menthol ban would improve public health outcomes, especially in the Black community, as menthol cigarettes have been predominantly marketed to Black Americans and are used by most Black smokers.
"85% of African Americans that smoke use mentholated tobacco products," Jefferson said. "Given the fact that 45,000 African Americans die each year from a tobacco related disease, we can assume that most of those deaths are from smoking mentholated tobacco products."
If the FDA does ban menthol cigarettes, it would likely take years to go into effect due to court challenges from the tobacco industry. According to the Federal Trade Commission, menthol cigarettes made up 37 percent of cigarette sales in the US in 2021. Jefferson believes a menthol flavored cigarette ban would be an existential threat to Big Tobacco.
"Banning menthol would be the beginning of the end of the tobacco industry and they know that," Jefferson said.