GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – A tobacco cessation instructor hopes a new proposal from the Food and Drug Administration reduces smoking-related diseases and deaths and reduces disparities.

“I think it can have a tremendous impact,” said Libby Stern, a clinical program specialist for the tobacco and nicotine treatment program at Spectrum Health.

Last week, the FDA released a long-awaited plan to ban menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars.

In the announcement, it cited high rates of use by youth and young adults, African Americans and other racial and ethnic groups. More than 18.5 million people use menthol cigarettes.

Public comment for the proposed rules began on Wednesday.

“It causes immeasurable, preventable disease and death, so having it not available, I believe – and many others believe in public health – that it will definitely decrease the rate of youth experimentation and subsequently will decrease addiction and all the problems that come with that , ”Said Stern.

AND 2021 study from the University of Michigan found that while African Americans make up 12 percent of the country’s population, they represented 41 percent of all menthol-smoking-related premature deaths between 1980 and 2018.

According to the FDA, 85 percent of Black smokers use menthol cigarettes compared to 30 percent of white smokers.

From 2011 to 2018, menthol use declined among white teenagers, but not among Black and Hispanic youth.

Data from the 2020 National Youth Tobacco Survey showed 58.3 percent of youth cigar smokers, about 550,000 youth, reported using a flavored cigar in the past 30 days.

“They [menthol cigarettes] are easier to start because it’s easier on the throat, it tastes better, and they’re more difficult to quit, ”said Stern. “Typically, they smoke more and they’re more addicted to the product.”

Stern added that historically, tobacco companies heavily market menthol products to African Americans and other marginalized communities, like the LGBTQ + population and people with mental health issues, through culturally tailored images.

In Michigan, the smoking population has declined since 2011, but it remains about the national rate. According to the state, 18.7 percent of adults smoke. It’s unclear how many people use menthol in the state.

If the ban passes, Stern believes people are unlikely to try unflavored tobacco products but may test out e-cigarettes. However, she thinks the majority of people will quit because of the differences in taste.

The FDA estimates the elimination of menthol products could prevent up to 654,000 deaths each yearwith 238,000 of those among African Americans.

AND separate studywhich has yet to be peer reviewed, from the University of Michigan estimated 255,000 premature deaths averted and 3.9 million life years gained among African Americans over a 40-year period.

“There’s absolutely nothing good about smoking, not one thing, not one single thing,” said Stern. “It’s deadly, it’s expensive, it’s addictive.”

Spectrum Health offers free, virtual cessation classes to anyone in the West Michigan community.

To sign up, click here.

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