Why do Black Americans love menthol cigarettes?

Originally published at: Why do Black Americans love menthol cigarettes? | Boing Boing


I get the negative impact of the targeted marketing in the Black community. What I’m missing is why menthol? Is it somehow worse than other cigarettes in terms of addiction, cancer rates, or some other health impacts? :thinking:


There are some recent studies that indicate that menthol cigarettes might be more harmful. Nothing conclusive yet, but indicators point in that direction.


According to the CDC
The menthol makes the cigs less harsh, and more pleasant, so people are more inclined to begin a habit rather than smoking one and deciding cigs taste terrible.
Menthol enhances the effects of nicotine on the brain and can make tobacco products even more addictive. In recent years, tobacco companies also have increased the amount of nicotine in some menthol cigarettes.


I really think it was a random choice at first: let’s heavily market this particular product to this demographic segment and see what happens. We saw what happens, and since the white executives gave even less of a damn about the mortality of Black customers as opposed to others they kept going with it.

A reminder that every destructive organisation you can think of, from fossil fuel companies to defense contractors to anti-choicers to opioid-pushing pharma firms to the GOP (and a special shout-out to the NRA) is using the PR and marketing playbook created at the request of the tobacco industry by Edward Bernays and his successors. It’s one of the many reasons I still consider it the most deadly and evil industry in human history.


I listened to this podcast about banning menthol cigarettes and how the people who would benefit the most like the ban the least.

also on spotify


Hi I’m going to be that guy - weed is not harmless. Yes the harmful effects have been vastly overstated by the pearl clutchers that be but, speaking as a fellow who has imbibed my fair share, I think it’s also important to acknowledge that it’s not totally benign.


Thanks! I got lucky and tried a terrible one as a kid, so the appeal was lost on me. :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes: My father smoked since he was a teen, and has tried unsuccessfully to quit more times than I can count. I’ve read it is much more difficult for people who started at a young age to stop. He is also a second-generation smoker, but made sure my siblings and I never got into it.


Then why not market menthol to everyone? That’s the question.

What made it ok to market menthol to Black people, but not White people?

Yup, you’re still getting all sorts of tars and soot and stuff in your lungs when you are inhaling smoke.


They do. They also target them at young people, women, and the lower economic classes.

With young people and women it’s pretty clearly about exploiting the less harsh/gross aspect to hook people early and shore up lower, and falling, smoking rates.

The marketing to the black community is just a big, classic example of demographic advertising. One of the origin points for the idea. Public health wise it’s also one of the reasons smoking rates among non-white Americans are much higher. Tobacco companies spent a hell of a lot on this as overall smoking rates fell.

IIRC it happened almost by accident. Newport’s yachts and yuppies advertising appealed to some black folks as an aspirational thing.

Advertisers noticed the brand was doing well in some Black communities and leaned into that market hard.


They were able to take advantage of an existing small (possibly even random) preference, and turn into an exercise in market segmentation. Menthol cigarettes were already separate brands, so it was easy to use this divide to pump out separate (and segregated) marketing messages for two audiences.

A tobacco brand in 20th century America would have worried about being seen as a “black” brand to their white customers, but it would be worth it to lose some of their white customers of menthol cigarettes (a fairly small niche), if it then allowed them to capture a large share of black smokers, while retaining their white smokers on the mainstream brands.In effect, they turned a niche product into a profitable brand by using marketing to racialise the use of the product


“A tobacco brand in 20th century America would have worried about being seen as a “black” brand to their white customers, but it would be worth it to lose some of their white customers of menthol cigarettes”

That makes sense (from a marketing perspective), consciously split the cigarette market into “Black-type” and “White-type” cigarettes, then go all in on marketing the “Black-type” to Black people.


Yeah, something about breathing in ANY type of smoke just doesn’t sound good, it’s not what our lungs evolved to do. If consuming weed in oral form works for you, you’re probably going to be better doing that.

I’ve also known a couple of people who use weed to self-medicate their anxiety issues, they’d probably be better off seeking professional help since they consume weed to the point where it is negatively affecting their lives (i.e. spending too much time high to get their regular life shit done).


Friends and I used to enjoy what we called a “minty fresh” as an occasional change of pace. Menthol was really kinda tasty.

I miss smoking. The built in breaks in the day, the built in socializing, wherever I went there were my people. After quitting it was like, shit how do I meet people anymore.


it seems a lot less harmless when looking at the risks and rewards. You only need a little bit to temporarily change up your mental framework, and a lot of people use this for creative endeavors. The only reward you really get from a cigarette is temporary relief of withdrawal symptoms.

So most people smoke one or two joints for their “session” or whatever. Yeah, smoking pot like cigarettes, 10, 20, or more in a day- it’s kind of like eating an entire birthday cake all by yourself.


I can’t figure out why, but of my friends who smoke, none of them are black. as a white guy, it’s not surprising that I’ve always had more white friends, but there were always friends outside my race, at certain times significantly. I think Al smoked; otherwise, in my life, smoking has been an overwhelmingly white thing.

this is just to preface my anecdote about menthols: the only people I knew who smoked them were a white couple who were also very regular in the club and rock scene; they went out many times a week. they switched to menthols specifically so people would quit bumming cigarettes off them.

RANDO AT CLUB: [sees my friends smoking] “hey, could bum one of those?”
FRIEND: "they’re menthols… "
RANDO: “oh, uh, yeah nevermind.”

although they would give them out to any takers, it just reduced the takers significantly.

@John_Abbott1 growing up, in the media I consumed, the menthol advertising that I remember seeing was the Newport “Alive, with pleasure” campaign that featured college -age (i.e. the youngest legal buyers) co-ed white kids doing some fun semi-athletic activity like frisbee or sailing. I dunno if they had different ads for black media or a separate campaign or what.


My impression is that menthols were targeted at anyone who would be turned off by either the smell/taste of regular cigarettes or the toxic white masculinity of the marketing campaigns for regular cigarettes like the marlboro man. This included at various times and to various extents Black Americans, women, children, and LGBTQ populations. I know I had a lot of white smoker friends in high school in the mid 90s who either smoked menthols or normally smoked regular cigarettes until their throats lungs felt too gross and then would smoke menthols to “clean out” the tar.


I was wonder if anyone has done a good study by now. With the number of years of legalization it should have been possible to compare the impact of average use.

I do remember that back in the day there was an estimate of pot being 10 times worse for your lungs. I also remember that whatever it was based on was flawed.


It’s still federally illegal, so anyone who does research risks losing all their federal funding on all their other studies going on at that university/hospital/etc. So no, a lot of studies still haven’t been done yet. The Biden administration made overtures towards changing that but as far as I can tell left in place much of the restrictions put in and even added some.

The software consulting company I used to work for had projects with a company that ALSO had projects with the US government, and because of that, we at the consulting company couldn’t smoke pot because of the restrictions from our client’s clients.