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'It's Not Just' campaign focuses on menthol-flavored tobacco products that addict youth

A cigarette.
Niels Timme

A coalition of groups is kicking off a campaign to draw attention to marketing by tobacco companies of menthol-flavored cigarettes. The Smoking and Health Action Coalition, which is part of the American Lung Association, wants to raise awareness about menthol flavoring of tobacco and how it can entice young people to smoke.

Lexi Popovici, director of the coalition, said that menthol can often hook young people on smoking.

“They’re harder to quit,” said Popovici. “A lot of these flavors are used as a means to make smoking more smooth and better tasting for young adolescents who are trying this for the first time. And with the average age of a new smoker being 13 years old, we see this primes them for addiction, for lifelong addiction.”

Popovici also said that menthol tobacco products have an even bigger impact on the African American population, where more than 70% of African American youth who do smoke are using menthol products.

“This tobacco advertising and marketing that we see for tobacco companies, trying to promote these menthol products and the detriment that this has on health disparities in our communities is huge,” said Popovici.

The Smoking and Health Action Coalition will be setting up a table at a Red Wings game on Thursday, June 2 to try and spread awareness about the anti-smoking campaign.

The Food and Drug Administration in April announced a plan to ban sales of menthol-flavored cigarettes in the United States.

A spokesperson for tobacco company Altria told NPR that proposal will push the products into "unregulated criminal markets that don't follow any regulations and ignore minimum-age laws."

But Dennis Henigan of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids says the proposal will survive legal challenges.

"I believe that the science is so strong in support of these rules and the lifesaving potential is so well established that these rules will be finalized and they will survive court challenge," Henigan told NPR.

This story includes reporting from NPR.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's Director of News and Public Affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.