While smoking in the United States has been in decline for decades, there are populations -- people under 18, young adults and African-Americans -- where lighting up is still prevalent.
It’s why the FDA-proposed ban on menthol cigarettes is seen by public health experts as the most significant tobacco control measure in over a decade.
Doctor David Balis heads up the Parkland Smoking Cessation Clinic in Dallas where he said it’s common to meet smokers trying to quit who say advertising pushed them to light up at a young age.
“If it's harder to start, then they’ll be less likely to start and that’s huge,” Balis said.
When the FDA banned flavored cigarettes 13 years ago, menthol wasn’t included. Public health experts said the tobacco industry fought to keep it legal because menthol makes smoking more palatable and keeps people smoking longer.
The effects have had a disproportionate toll on Black smokers. A government survey found 85% of African-American smokers use menthol cigarettes, compared to 29% of white smokers. Black men now make up the largest portion of lung cancer patients, according to the CDC.
Portia White, VP of Policy and Legislative Affairs at the NAACP, told NBC 5 on Friday the organization is “elated” with the proposed FDA ban on menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars that is considered long overdue.
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“This is a step in the right direction. This is a win for the Black community,” White said.
“The tobacco industry used a very precise form of marketing for years from direct advertising to pricing of menthol products to sponsoring concerts and events to entice and induce Black smokers.”
Dr. David Winter with Baylor Scott & White Health sees the effects of long-term tobacco use, especially in patients who struggle to quit.
“Those are the ones I know who are really addicted. They know they shouldn’t smoke, family and friends encourage them not to smoke but they just can’t quit.”