Tobacco Free Zone program urges public to take action against unjust marketing and promotion of menthol cigarettes


“It’s Not Just” campaign aimed at hard-hitting menthol marketing targeting Black communities


Cortland, N.Y. – A statewide initiative aims to put a spotlight on how the tobacco industry has specifically targeted African American communities for decades with its aggressive marketing of menthol products.1,2 The “It’s Not Just” campaign launched regionally and statewide on No Menthol Sunday, May 16, and is focused on ending the misconception that menthol is just a flavor. It’s not just an injustice, it’s killing Black Americans.


Smoking-related illnesses are the No. 1 cause of death in the African American community, surpassing all other causes of death, including AIDS, homicide, diabetes and accidents.3,4,5 Overall, 85% of African American smokers use menthol cigarettes, compared to 29% of white smokers. (3,6)


The “It’s Not Just” campaign is intended to educate people across New York State about the injustice of menthol product marketing and promotion. The campaign uses direct language and powerful, emotional imagery of people who represent communities targeted by Big Tobacco. It describes how menthol is more than a flavor, highlighting hard-hitting facts about the manipulative, aggressive nature of menthol tobacco marketing and its impact on African American communities. 


“The industry strategically and aggressively targeted the Black community with menthol cigarettes for decades. Menthol masks tobacco’s harsh taste, making it easier to start and harder to quit,” said Jennifer Hamilton, coordinator of the Cortland County Health Department’s Tobacco Free Zone program. “It’s sickening how we’ve allowed Big Tobacco to target various groups like African Americans, the LGBTQ community, and youth all this time. 


Individuals can learn more about how to help fight the injustice of menthol at the campaign’s website:


“With the recent FDA announcement to ban menthol, this campaign couldn't be more timely and relevant,” said LaTroya Hester, director of communications, The Center for Black Health & Equity. “We know that the tobacco industry will fight this decision with the full force of its legal and marketing power, but we're not intimidated. The Center is excited about the launch of this campaign, and we are so honored to contribute to much-needed counter-messaging.”


While the tobacco industry has traditionally targeted Black communities with the marketing of menthol products, menthol is also a driver of youth initiation. (7,8) When New York State ended the sale of flavored e-cigarettes statewide in May 2020, it was a significant step toward reducing youth tobacco use. However, other flavored tobacco products, such as menthol cigarettes, continue to present an obstacle to decreasing tobacco use among young people and underserved populations.


Additional statistics: 

  • Menthol marketing 
    • Menthol use among Black communities is a direct result of the tobacco industry's marketing practices and product manipulation. (7,9)
    • Historically, the marketing and promotion of menthol cigarettes have been targeted heavily toward African Americans through culturally tailored advertising and messages. (1,2,10)
    • Menthol products are given more shelf space in retail outlets within African American and other minority neighborhoods. (1,11)
    • In addition to being heavily advertised and widely available, certain tobacco products have been found to be priced lower in African American communities, making them more appealing, particularly to price-sensitive youth. (12,13,14)


  • Menthol usage 
    • Ninety-three percent of Black smokers started by using menthol cigarettes. (15,16)
    • Over 7 out of 10 African American youth ages 12-17 years who smoke use menthol cigarettes. (1,17)
    • Research indicates that menthol makes smoking easier to start and harder to quit. (18,19)
    • Tobacco companies add menthol to make cigarettes seem less harsh and more appealing to new smokers and young people. (15)
    • Tobacco companies market menthol cigarettes as “smoother” than other cigarettes. (2,15)
    • Menthol in cigarettes creates a cooling sensation in the throat and airways when the user inhales. (2,9,15)


  • Health impact 
    • Menthol cigarettes are not less harmful than other cigarettes and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has found that they are likely a greater risk to public health than non-menthol cigarettes. (2,15)
    • Black smokers smoke less but die of heart attacks, strokes and other causes linked to tobacco use at higher rates than white smokers. (1, 20-24)


Support available for New Yorkers who want to quit

For help quitting smoking or vaping, including free nicotine replacement therapy for eligible

residents, individuals can contact a health care provider, and call the New York State Smokers’ Quitline at 1-866-NY-QUITS or visit: Effective medications and counseling are covered by Medicaid and most insurance programs.

Tobacco Free New York State and Reality Check student groups around the state have worked tirelessly to educate local communities on the tobacco industry’s use of menthol and other flavored tobacco products as a tool to target, attract and addict new smokers. Tobacco Free New York State, including the Reality Check student youth groups, is part of the NYS Tobacco Control Program.

The Tobacco Free Zone program of Cortland, Tompkins and Chenango Counties, a grant held with the Cortland County Health Department, works to foster environments supportive of policies that reinforce the tobacco-free norm in our communities. Learn more at 


  1. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “African Americans and Tobacco Use,”, updated November 16, 2020.
  2. Food and Drug Administration. Preliminary Scientific Evaluation of the Possible Public Health Effects of Menthol Versus Nonmenthol Cigarettes, 2013.
  3. Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “Tobacco Use Among African Americans,”, 2021. 
  4. American Cancer Society, “Cancer Facts & Figures for African Americans, 2013–2014,”, 2013.  
  5. American Heart Association, “African Americans and Cardiovascular Diseases: Statistical Fact Sheet, 2013 Update,”, 2013.
  6. Delnevo, CD, et al., “Banning Menthol Cigarettes: A Social Justice Issue Long Overdue,” Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 22(10): 1673-1675, 2020.
  7. Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “Impact of Menthol Cigarettes on Youth Smoking Initiation and Health Disparities,”, 2021. 
  8. FDA. Preliminary Scientific Evaluation of the Possible Public Health Effects of Menthol versus Nonmenthol Cigarettes (2013).
  9. Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee, Menthol Cigarettes and Public Health: Review of the Scientific Evidence and Recommendations, Rockville, MD: US Department of Health and Human Services, Food and Drug Administration, 2011.
  10. National Cancer Institute, The Role of the Media in Promoting and Reducing Tobacco Use, Smoking and Tobacco Control Monograph No. 19, NIH Pub. No. 07-6242, June 2008.
  11. Center for Public Health Systems Science, Point-of-Sale Strategies: A Tobacco Control Guide, St. Louis: Center for Public Health Systems Science, George Warren Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis and the Tobacco Control Legal Consortium, 2014 [accessed 2018 Jun 12].
  12. Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, “Tobacco Company Marketing To African Americans,”, 2018.
  13. Resnick, EA, et al., “Cigarette Pricing Differs by U.S. Neighborhoods — A BTG Research Brief,”, Chicago, IL: Bridging the Gap Program, Health Policy Center, Institute for Health Research and Policy, University of Illinois at Chicago, 2012.  
  14. Cantrell, J, et al., “Marketing Little Cigars and Cigarillos: Advertising, Price, and Associations with Neighborhood Demographics,” American Journal of Public Health, published online ahead of print August 15, 2013.
  15. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “Menthol and Cigarettes,”, updated May 18, 2020.
  16. D’Silva J, Cohn AM, Johnson AL, Villanti AC, Differences in subjective experiences to first use of menthol and nonmenthol cigarettes in a national sample of young adult cigarette smokers, Nicotine Tob Res. 20(9): 1062-1068, 2018.
  17. Gardiner PS, The African Americanization of Menthol Cigarette Use in the United States, Nicotine and Tobacco Research 2004; 6:Suppl 1:S55-65 [cited 2018 Jun 12].
  18. Truth Initiative, “Menthol,” fact sheet,, 2018.
  19. Foulds J, Hooper MW, Pletcher MJ, Okuyemi KS, Do Smokers of Menthol Cigarettes Find It Harder to Quit Smoking?, Nicotine & Tobacco Research, 2010;12(Suppl 2):S102-S109.
  20. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Tobacco Use Among U.S. Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups—African Americans, American Indians and Alaska Natives, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics: A Report of the Surgeon General, Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Office on Smoking and Health, 1998 [accessed 2018 Jun 12].
  21. Kochanek KD, Murphy SL, Xu JQ, Tejada-Vera B, Deaths: Final Data for 2014, National Vital Statistics Reports, 2016;vol 65: no 4, Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics [accessed 2018 Jun 12].
  22. Heron, M, Deaths: Leading Causes for 2010, National Vital Statistics Reports, 2013;62(6) [accessed 2018 Jun 12].
  23. Schoenborn CA, Adams PF, Peregoy JA, Health Behaviors of Adults: United States, 2008–2010, National Center for Health Statistics. Vital Health Stat 10(257) [accessed 2018 Jun 12].

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, The Health Consequences of Smoking, Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2004 [accessed 2018 Jun 12].