Dear Secretary Becerra and Ambassador Rice:
The NAACP strongly encourages the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to complete steps within its authority to establish a rulemaking to ban menthol-flavored cigarettes and all flavored cigar products. This rulemaking is aligned with the agency's previous announcement targeting an April 30, 2022 deadline.
It is well established and documented that one of the leading causes of death for African Americans is tobacco-related chronic illness. In fact, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that tobacco use is a major contributor to three leading causes of death among African Americans – heart disease, cancer, and stroke. Additionally, the CDC acknowledges that smoking is the leading cause of preventable death. As a result of these facts alone, the FDA should exercise its authority to regulate these addictive products that lead to disease and death, specifically as related to the health of African Americans.
Increased access to health care, reducing health disparities, and limiting chronic disease are top priorities for the NAACP as we continue to support programs and policies that will improve positive health outcomes within Black communities. We believe people should be free to utilize products that they choose, however, it is also well documented that the tobacco industry targeted the Black community for more than 50 years to increase the use of tobacco products. Flavoring tobacco with menthol has been and remains an effective tool in our community. Therefore, we are focused on reducing the harm caused by tobacco and the practice of menthol flavoring in tobacco.
Other flavored tobacco products were taken off the market in 2009 when Congress passed the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Act. The bill gave the FDA great latitude in regulating the manufacturing, marketing, and selling of tobacco products. As an exception, menthol-flavored tobacco remained in the marketplace despite conclusions by FDA and the independent Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee that public health would improve through its removal.
Egregious marketing practices of the tobacco industry include the practice of giving out free cigarette samples. This pattern of activity continues today with expanded marketing strategies like supporting and providing sponsorship funding for events, supporting various Black leaders with financial support, discounting menthol products in Black neighborhoods, and abundant advertising in stores frequented by Black communities. The consistency and targeting of these efforts have been structured with resultant harm to Black Americans. As a result of these egregious practices, the NAACP stopped accepting funds from the tobacco industry over 2 decades ago.
As the FDA has acknowledged, African Americans suffer disproportionately from being addicted to cigarettes and the effects of long-term tobacco use. It seems only correct in making the next step in the interest of the Black community to ban menthol – the last allowable flavor which is and has always been known as the flavor that African Americans have preferred and highly utilized. In fact, as reported by Drs. Delnevo, Ganz, and Goodwin in their research, "Banning Menthol Cigarettes: A Social Justice Issue Long Overdue," today 85% of all Black smokers smoke menthols compared to just 29% of whites. Menthol is more addictive and masks the harsh taste of tobacco thus making it easier to smoke and ultimately harder to quit. Children find it easier to start smoking because of menthol flavoring, and Drs. Delnevo, Ganz, and Goodwin also acknowledge in their article that 60% of pregnant smokers smoke menthols. With the growing concerns regarding maternal health and infant mortality, we simply cannot ignore the imperative of banning menthol leading to better health outcomes for both mothers and infants.
In conclusion, in the recent United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) "Equity Action Plan Summary," HHS states that the agency has a fundamental role to play in advancing health equity to ensure that every person in our nation can achieve their full potential and thrive. As such, the FDA under the guidance of HHS has that same fundamental role, which includes advancing health equity platforms and policies that will enable the Black community to fully thrive and overcome disproportionate and preventable deaths in the Black population.
We do not agree with the tobacco industry's message and strategy presented by a few Black leaders: prohibiting menthol cigarettes would be discriminatory. We reject this view. The failure to prohibit the sale of menthol cigarettes and products would be discriminatory and counter the goal and function of the FDA to protect and promote public health for all, including the African-American community.
For further discussion on our position, please feel free to contact me or Portia Reddick White at email@example.com.
President and CEO, NAACP
cc: Robert Califf
Commissioner of Food and Drug
Food and Drug Administration
Mitch Zeller, J.D.
Director, Center for Tobacco Products