Menthol cigarettes still plague women’s health
Menthol cigarettes were created by tobacco companies specifically for women
Menthol cigarettes on a shelf at a Quick Stop store. Photo source: Joe Raedle/Getty Images embed
‘Menthol cigarettes are one of the worst… causes of health problems facing women today’
This year, Women’s History Month comes at a pivotal time when women’s voices and stories are being heard and lifted up in a way they never have before. This opportunity should be celebrated and gives society an opportunity to see history in new ways – including stories about things that impact women’s health.
Many may be surprised to know that one of the most critical health issues facing women today is menthol cigarettes. They are a key reason why lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths for women in the U.S. In fact, almost twice as many women die from lung cancer than breast cancer, even though breast cancer is more prevalent.
Wells developed cancer of the larynx due to smoking. She smoked two packs of cigarettes a day, lost all of her finances to expensive cancer treatments, and suffered from the disease until she died of pneumonia at age 49.
Also a longtime smoker, Vaughan developed lung cancer and carcinoma of the joints in one hand. Her amazing contralto voice became huskier after years of smoking. She died at age 66.
It is important to understand the history of menthol cigarettes. They were actually created by tobacco companies specifically for women. For decades the tobacco industry intentionally advertised and marketed them to women by showing images of group fun, freedom, and glamour in their marketing.
It worked. Women are nearly twice as likely as men to smoke menthol cigarettes, and more than 50 percent of menthol smokers are women. In California, 70 percent of African American adult smokers prefer menthol cigarettes compared to 18 percent of White adult smokers.
Research shows that menthol cigarettes are actually worse for the user than regular cigarettes. Menthol makes it easier for smokers to inhale more deeply, allowing harmful particles to settle deeper inside the lungs. By soothing airway pain and irritation, menthol smoking can mask the early warning symptoms of respiratory problems. Menthol smokers are also less likely to successfully quit smoking than other smokers.
“Menthol cigarettes are one of the worst, yet not explicitly identified, causes of health problems facing women today,” said Carol McGruder, co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, a San Francisco bay area organization that works to expose and address the inequities in tobacco use and its impact among diverse communities. “It’s a serious problem that gets negligible attention – we need to inform women about what the tobacco industry has done to us.”
The fact that menthol cigarettes are still produced and sold is puzzling. In 2009, the FDA banned the sale of all flavored cigarettes, except menthols – and the tobacco industry has managed to keep them legal since then.
“For those who want to take local action, every county in California has a tobacco control coalition – people can check with their county department of health to learn when and where meetings are held, everyone is welcome. There are also resources available for anyone who is personally affected,” said McGruder.
Now is the time to break menthol’s impact on women for good. For anyone who wants help to break the menthol smoking habit, visit the California Smoker’s Helpline or call 1-800-NO-BUTTS.