How Tobacco Companies Are Killing Our Black Teens
5 months ago
Here's what we can do to help
The Food and Drug Administration’s Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee found that “menthol cigarettes are marketed disproportionately to younger smokers” and “disproportionately marketed per capita to African Americans.” Indeed, more than four out of every five black smokers ages 12 and older reach for mentholated cigarettes, compared to just a quarter of whites.
Warren smokes Newport Menthols. “Those are the ones I started out with," he said. "I'm not trying to fix something that isn’t broken. Menthols taste better. The other ones are nasty; I take a puff of one and put it down."
But menthol cigarettes do more than provide a minty taste. "Some think that by reducing the irritation to the airways by smoke, the menthol promotes deeper breaths and thus allows delivery of more toxins per breath, although this remains a theory. But according to FDA’s Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee, menthol cigarettes increase the number of children who experiment with cigarettes and the number of children who become regular smokers,” said Norman H. Edelman, MD, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association (ALA).
[ALSO READ: Exercise Helps Teen Smokers Quit]
Regardless of the brand, cigarettes deliver a dangerous drug, one that causes permanent damage in teens. Young smokers can actually end up with lungs that never reach full capacity, which puts them at increased risk for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) later in life. Smoking is the number one cause of preventable death in the United States, and among teens who continue to smoke as adults, a third die prematurely. Black men who smoke are more likely than other smokers to develop and die from tobacco-related cancers, too. This is compounded by the impact of second- and third-hand smoke, which cause cancer and other diseases in those who share space with smokers, especially children.
So it’s important that we encourage the youngest among us to step away from cigarettes. The best way to prevent an addiction is to keep them from starting in the first place. Have frank conversations about the health impacts at an early age, and don’t let family or friends smoke around your children. When you see advertisements, discuss why they are inaccurate and detail how the company is trying to hook them for life.
About half of all young smokers have tried to quit. Warren is among them, but it didn’t stick. “I didn’t want to be addicted to anything, so I tried to quit after a year," he said. "I did it for like a month, and then I found myself smoking another one. I was craving them. I’m definitely addicted."
But there are resources that can help. NotOnTobacco.com and Teen.Smokefree.gov are great places to start for free smoking cessation programs; they can also sign up by texting “QUIT” to iQUIT (47848). And researchers say that students who combine a smoking cession program with an exercise regimen are more likely to kick the habit.
Erika Sward, assistant vice president of national advocacy for the ALA, suggests that change must also come from the top: “States and the federal government are not doing enough to prevent kids from starting such as funding prevention and quit-smoking programs; making all public and work places smoke-free; and increasing tobacco taxes. Time will tell if the government takes that step.
Started smoking as a teen? Kicked the habit young? Share your story in the comments.