Detroiters react to planned ban on Newports and other menthol cigarettes

May 05, 2021, 12:18 PM

Newport and other menthol cigarette makers market their products to African Americans. (Photo: Stanford University archive of tobacco ads)

Detroiters have mixed feelings on the federal government's plan to ban menthol cigarettes in an effort to protect Black smokers, 85 percent of whom currently go for the smooth, minty flavor that masks the harshness of tobacco.

The ban proposed by the Food and Drug Administration follows a successful legal challenge by the San Francisco-based African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, which wants to see an end to sales of Newport and other menthol brands that target Black communities with advertising. But civil liberties advocates warn of possible legal repercussions should menthol cigarettes become a black-market item. "Call me skeptical. Because of, you know, American history and America’s present," Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson wrote this week.

The Free Press spoke to menthol smokers outside party stores and bus stops in Detroit about the likely ban. Some reportedly didn't want the federal government taking away their preferred cigarette, while others believed it could help them quit.

“I’m glad they're about to ban it because whatever they put in these menthols, it’s horrible, because I can’t stop," said (Sheila Powe, 56), who smokes Kools.

"And I’m not the only one. I’ve got a brother, he’s actually on an oxygen machine, and he’s still lighting up — he’s still smoking Newports," she added. "He has COPD, bronchitis, and I have the same thing. My doctor told me if I quit smoking, all of that will clear up."

Melvin Sylvester, 23, ... said he picked up smoking menthols from other kids back when he was in school. He compared the choice to smoke menthols with the choice to drink sweet tea versus unsweetened tea. It's all about taste and the initial "rush."

He predicted that even if the ban takes effect, people will find ways to skirt it and still smoke menthols.

Constance Hudson, 59, said she has been smoking since her 20s and will probably quit cigarettes if the ban happens ...

"I don’t like regular without the menthol — it’s too strong," she said.

The ban could also potentially help local party stores, the Freep found. Menthol cigarettes offer only small profit margins, one store owner told the paper, and an end to their sale would free up shelf space for other items. 

The FDA has provided no timeline for the rule change, but can enact it unilaterally.

Read more:  Detroit Free Press

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