By Lorna Fitzpatrick, M.D.

Lorna Fitzpatrick, MD

More than 70% of Black young people ages 12 to 17 who smoke use menthol cigarettes. Of Black smokers ages 18 to 24, 93% started with menthol cigarettes. Approximately 85% of non-Hispanic Black or African American adults who smoke use menthol cigarettes, the highest percentage of menthol cigarette use of any racial or ethnic group. These statistics should not be a surprise, as they result from a well-executed marketing effort.

The CDC has called out the tobacco industry for targeting Black Americans with menthol cigarette advertising, giveaways, special pricing, lifestyle branding, and event sponsorships: Their goal is to get Black youth addicted so they become customers for life.

Nobody inhales cigarette smoke for the first time and thinks it feels good. That’s why tobacco companies take the harsh edge off that initial experience with flavorings, including menthol, so first-timers will continue to sample the product and get hooked. The nicotine in cigarettes is highly addictive and adding menthol creates a cooling sensation in the throat and airways, making the smoke feel easier to inhale.

Menthol is a chemical compound found naturally in peppermint and other similar plants. According to the CDC, some research shows that menthol cigarettes may be more addictive than non-menthol cigarettes because menthol can change the way the brain registers the sensations of taste and pain.

Projections from the Census Bureau show that Black Americans’ death rate is generally higher than White Americans for individuals with heart disease, stroke, cancer, asthma, influenza, pneumonia, and diabetes. Smoking contributes to each of those conditions.

Smoking-related illnesses are the number one cause of death among Black Americans, surpassing all other causes of death, including AIDS, homicide, diabetes, and accidents, according to a report from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.

In 2019 and 2020, sales of menthol-flavored cigarettes made up 37% of all cigarette sales in the U.S. — the highest proportion in 55 years.

We need to educate the public, especially people of color, about this effort to create nicotine addicts in our Black communities. All young people deserve to live tobacco-free lives.

The New York State Smokers’ Quitline offers proven resources to help people quit smoking. Call 1-866-NY-QUITS (1-866-697-8487) or go online to

Lorna Fitzpatrick, MD, is vice president of medical affairs and senior medical director at Univera Healthcare.