It’s not a secret that cigarettes and other tobacco products are harmful.

Still, the tobacco industry continues to aggressively market menthol-flavored products to specific groups like Black, LGBTQIA+ and young people. Worst of all, big business leaders understand that camouflaging the strong taste of tobacco plays a role in getting customers hooked on the product. Adding a menthol-flavor masks the harshness of tobacco, which makes it taste smoother and better, and often ultimately harder to quit. Product taste isn’t the only way markets are targeted. Industry leaders make sure Black, and other targeted demographics, get the message that their products are appealing — tobacco companies spend more than $8 billion on advertising annually.

Luckily, there are organizations willing to fight back against the tobacco industry. The It’s Not Just campaign is a movement that offers informative resources and brings awareness to the issues communities face due to the use of tobacco products.

“There’s nothing ‘just’ about menthol. Menthol is not just a flavor. It’s a manipulative way for Big Tobacco to target, attract and addict new smokers, “says Advancing Tobacco-Free Communities. “We launched the “It’s Not Just” campaign to educate our communities about the tobacco industry's marketing and promotion of menthol-flavored tobacco products that has affected young people for decades.”

Research shows that flavored tobacco plays a major role in attracting consumers and getting people hooked on smoking — especially teens.  According to Advancing Tobacco-Free Communities, 81% of youth who’ve tried tobacco started with a flavored product and more than half (54%) of youth ages 12-17 years who smoke use menthol cigarettes. Also, more than 70% of African American youth who smoke use menthol cigarettes.

The push to maintain, and attract more, African American consumers continues across all age groups. Studies reveal that menthol products appear more often in stores in Black communities, advertisements are tailored to and appear more in neighborhoods where people of color live, and some tobacco products are offered at lower prices in Black and Brown areas.  This isn’t the only community targeted by the industry. The tobacco industry has directed strong advertising and marketing toward the LBGTQIA+ community.  As a result, LGBTQIA adults smoke at two and a half times the rate of their non-LGBTQIA peers.

Menthol cigarettes are deadly. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has found that they are likely a greater risk to public health than non-menthol cigarettes. Research has shown that Black smokers are more likely to die of heart attack and strokes related to tobacco. Even worse, smoking-related illnesses are the No. 1 cause of death in the African American community — even more than AIDS, homicide, diabetes, and accidents.

Smoking tobacco destroys lives. It’s important to educate teens, family members and friends about the dangers of menthol-flavored tobacco products, and how they are used to attract consumers.

Learn more about how to protect and talk to your loved ones, and how Tobacco Free NYS is fighting for healthier communities  here.