Life is filled with turning points and defining moments. November 25, 2013 was a turning point that led me to repurpose my life’s mission to helping and supporting people who smoke overcome the challenges of living without nicotine. That turning point was the death of my husband, Sargent Larry D. Beard, who began smoking Newport menthol cigarettes at age fifteen.
During our 23 years of marriage, he had lung cancer three times, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and emphysema. Each time he had lung cancer, he had surgery to remove the cancerous lobe. And each time he went back to smoking.
Make no mistake about it, I knew he did not smoke because he wanted to become a slave to nicotine and menthol or die from lung cancer. I thought, maybe because he dodged a bullet, meaning he didn’t have chemotherapy or radiation, he had a false sense of security that led him to return to smoking. I did not understand the challenges he faced until after he died.
Following his death and because I wanted to understand, I became a Certified Tobacco Treatment Specialist. During my training, I learned that my husband was most likely addicted to nicotine and that nicotine is a psychoactive substance like cocaine. Nicotine addiction, like diabetes, is a chronic, relapsing condition.
I also learned that menthol intensifies nicotine’s action on the brain. In a study conducted by Alsharari, the findings suggest the addition of menthol to tobacco products augment their addictive potential. People who smoke menthol cigarettes have a more difficult time quitting (CDC).
Unfortunately, my husband’s story is not unique. Seventy-two-point eight percent of African Americans report that they want to quit (CDC). The Truth Initiative reported 70% of African Americans want to quit, but only 3% successfully do so. Forty-five thousand African Americans die each year from tobacco related diseases.
Tobacco companies add sugars into cigarettes to make them taste better, removing the bitter flavor of cigarette smoke. Adding sugar also reduces the pH of cigarette smoke, which makes the smoke less harsh and less irritating and makes smoking more appealing (Seidenberg AB, Jo CL, Ribisl KM. Knowledge and awareness of added sugar in cigarettes. Nicotine Tob Res. 2019;21(12):1689-1694. doi:10.1093/ntr/nty217), especially to those who are new to smoking like African American adolescents. Consequently, seven out of ten African American adolescents smoke menthol cigarettes.
If you are a person who does not smoke, you may be asking yourself, what does this have to do with you or why should you care? Why? Because the tobacco industry has monetized African American deaths and despair to satisfy its greed and profit over people mentality.
They unapologetically target African American communities and neighborhoods with discount coupons to make menthol products more affordable. Some African American community leaders and elected officials support and advance the tobacoo industry’s predatory agenda while pretending they haven’t been bought out by the tobacco industry.
Yes, people decide to smoke. And yet, most decisions are made during adolescent years when they lack maturity and good judgement to realize the consequences of their decision. You should care because the costs of not caring are high.
In addition to health costs, there are civic engagement costs. People with emphysema, COPD and other respiratory diseases may not have the stamina to stand in line for extended periods of time to exercise their right to vote.
There are relationship costs. A 2009 study by Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research in Australia found that the risk factor for divorce among married couples with a single smoker is 75 to 90 percent more likely than couples who both smoke.
There are environment costs to removing cigarette litter from our cities. California public agencies spend more than $41 million annually on litter clean up (California Department of Public Health Tobacco Control Program). Taxpayers bare the litter costs.
If you do not smoke, in the spirit of the African concept of Ubuntu, you must care about those who do because community and neighborhood wellness begin and ends in the humanity, compassion, and empathy we show for each other.
I am because we are! We must take a stand for the removing menthol cigarettes from the market.
This month is a defining moment for you. You can take a stand and express your support for removing menthol cigarettes from the market by observing “No Menthol Sunday” on May 15.
The Center for Black Health and Equity’s No Menthol Sunday is an annual opportunity for faith communities to take a stand against menthol cigarettes. Faith leaders and organizations are encouraged to dedicate this day to educating congregants about smoking, vaping, and the role of flavored tobacco products, especially menthol.
Although No Menthol Sunday is a faith-based observance, we all can encourage people who smoke not to purchase or smoke menthol cigarettes on May 15. Make a pledge to observe No Menthol Sunday!
To learn more about No Menthol Sunday or stop smoking resources visit www.amplify.love.