The Food and Drug Administration announced this week plans to ban menthol flavored cigarettes and all flavored cigars in a move that is aimed at improving the health of people of color and those living in low-income neighborhoods in particular.
The announcement follows years of healthcare advocates calling on the tobacco industry to stop targeting communities of color with menthol flavored tobacco as it is known to be more addictive and harder to quit than others.
Filmmaker Lincoln Mondy, who partnered with Truth Initiative on the short film Black Lives/Black Lungs, an exposé on Big tobacco's 50 plus year campaign to turn menthol into the "Black cigarette," told Cheddar the ban would be a significant win for the public health of Black Americans.
"I would say it's definitely a step in the right direction. It's a massive win for public health, but I also want to note that the FDA has had authority to act since the 2009 Tobacco Control Act and well before then," he said. "Black public health experts have been ringing alarm for decades about how menthol is uniquely damaging and the impact that it's taken on Black communities."
Mondy's concern doesn't just end at menthol flavored cigarettes and flavored cigars. He also said Big Tobacco is being deceptive when it comes to other products like e-cigarettes. He noted that the industry is simply trying to rebrand vaping as less hazardous than traditional tobacco products when in reality they present the same risks.
And while he said he welcomes and looks forward to a ban, according to the advocate, the move could have been made years ago.
"The evidence is so clear. Take for instance, in 1953, around 5 percent of African American smokers reported smoking menthol," he explained. "The route and the tactics that Big Tobacco took to get this number higher was included but not limited to littering our neighborhoods with free products, price discounts, a massive lobbying tactic, and now, we're at nearly 90 percent of African American smokers choose to smoke menthol cigarettes. And it's no coincidence. It was done in public daylight, with no oversight, and the strategy worked."
Mondy said the industry is using the same tactics to infiltrate young people and communities of color that it used over the last 50 years to grow its success. He also stated that the unique danger of the flavoring is that it is used to mask the harsh natural taste of tobacco smoke and make it "easier to start and harder to quit."
"It's something that is not new, it's not unique, we're not the only country talking about this. Flavors have been banned elsewhere, and flavors can be banned in the United States and should be," he added.
A follow up to the 2014 release of Black Lungs/Black Lives is slated to be released in February. Mondy said the film will delve into the tobacco industry's "focus on corporate sustainability" through the sale of electronic cigarettes.