Menthol cigarettes are risky.
All cigarettes, of course, are dangerous. Smoking is the single-most preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the United States. Each year an estimated 443,000 people die prematurely from smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, and another 8.6 million live with a serious illness caused by smoking.
Mortality rates are even more tragic for African Americans and gay and transgender smokers who suffer the greatest consequences of tobacco-related illnesses alongside already elevated rates of obesity, high blood pressure, cancer, and other diseases that are inflamed by smoking. Blacks, for example, are more likely to acquire and die from lung cancer than any other group of Americans, and the American Cancer Society estimates that a minimum of 30,000 gay and transgender Americans die each year of tobacco-related diseases. Rates are similar for strokes and heart disease. For gay and transgender African Americans, the risk is surely even greater.
Mounting evidence suggests that the availability of menthol cigarettes perpetuates the high rates of smoking among these minority groups, which result in these bleak health outcomes. There are currently 19.2 million menthol smokers in the United States, and more than a million of these smokers are adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 (see Figure 1).
More than 80 percent of all black youth who smoke use menthol—the highest usage among all minority groups—and more than 70 percent of gay and transgender youth smoke menthol cigarettes—also among the highest usage of all groups within this age group.
The most effective way to tackle these appalling figures is to reduce the number of people who begin smoking in the first place. A ban on menthol cigarettes would effectively do just that.