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Local view: Stand up to menthol marketing in Duluth, elsewhere

In late July, the delegates attending the national convention of the NAACP passed a historic resolution supporting state and local efforts to restrict the sales of menthol and other flavored cigarettes due to the fact that those tobacco products are predominantly marketed to the African-American community. Not only does the Duluth chapter of the NAACP strongly support the intention of this resolution, we hope it becomes a catalyst for real change related to the targeting of the members of our community by the tobacco industry.

Stephan Witherspoon

The marketing of menthol products to our community is everywhere. In African-American-based magazines, on in-store posters, on the internet, in social media, on packs of cigarettes, and in dance and music. A recent marketing trend among the tobacco industry is to sponsor hip-hop competitions. Of course, menthol and other flavored cigarettes are found everywhere at these events.

The impacts of this marketing have been highly effective. Come along for a walk with me and ask an African-American tobacco user in Duluth what type of cigarette they are smoking and they likely will tell you menthol. That’s not a surprise because more than 88 percent of African-American smokers use menthol cigarettes.

The effectiveness of this marketing campaign has been devastating. Disease and death associated with menthol tobacco use has skyrocketed. And while some may argue that our community has more pressing issues to deal with, the facts tell otherwise. Tobacco-related deaths continue to claim more lives than violence, AIDS, car accidents and nontobacco-related cancers combined. The death toll currently stands at 47,000 African-American lives each and every year.

But the NAACP resolution is about a lot more than drawing attention to the tragic consequences of the tobacco industry’s marketing of menthol products to the African-American community. It is also a call to action. It will bolster efforts like those currently taking place in Duluth to educate and inform our community of the need to stand up to tobacco, encourage residents not to start smoking, and for those who do smoke to quit. Restricting the sale of these products will have a real and positive impact that will help level the playing field — a field that currently has grass-roots-based community efforts battling hundreds of millions of dollars in targeted advertising and marketing by the tobacco industry.

The Duluth chapter of the NAACP fully embraces the menthol resolution approved by the national delegates. We not only look forward to it being ratified by the national board of directors next month, we welcome the positive, long-term impacts it will have on ongoing efforts to reduce tobacco use among African-Americans in Duluth.

Stephan Witherspoon of Duluth is the second vice president of the local chapter of the NAACP, a board member for the Cross Cultural Alliance of Duluth, co-chairman of the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial Board, a commissioner on the Superior Police and Fire Commission, and a community organizer for menthol prevention for the Lincoln Park Children and Families Collaborative.