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STUDY: African American menthol cigarette smokers find it harder to quit


For decades, there has been massive advertising of menthol cigarettes, heavily in African American communities. That has been researched often. What is different about a new study of mentholated cigarettes and quitting is that it found Black menthol cigarette smokers find it harder to quit.

"Incredibly targeted marketing that basically African Americanized mentholated smoking."

A local public health researcher says the use of menthol cigarettes in Black communities reflects those decades of marketing and formulation of what's inside the cigarette paper. University at Buffalo Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs Gary Giovino was a key researcher in a national study of menthol and quitting.

"The rates of quitting among African Americans who smoke menthol were slightly lower, about 12% lower, than the rates of quitting among African Americans who smoked non-mentholated brands," Giovino said, "whereas the rates of quitting among Whites who smoked menthol were identical to the rates of quitting of Whites who smoked non-mentholated brands."

Giovino said menthol makes smoking easier.

"There's a topical anesthetic in menthol cigarettes that sort of numbs the respiratory tract, so that people can inhale more deeply," he said. "The smoke goes down easier. It doesn't hurt as much and they can actually hold the smoke in their chest longer and they take in more nicotine."

The study recommends banning menthol from tobacco products. Giovino said it is not clear why there is such a strong and continuing push to encourage Blacks to smoke menthol cigarettes.

"It's possible that early on, sales in African American communities for menthol might have been a little higher than in others," he said, "and I believe that that's when they piled on the marketing and, in fact, they made it very much an African American thing to do."

Giovino said he is involved a longterm study looking into a theory that people who can't afford good nutrition are more susceptible to nicotine addiction.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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