Menthol ban could save countless lives

A Capital Region oncologists calls for ending the sale of all flavored tobacco products

March 22, 2023

The following op-ed, by Dr. Arsyl De Jesus, was originally published in the Albany Times Union on March 22, 2023. 


There is a public health emergency that I see every day as an oncologist: People of color encounter proportionally greater and more persistent threats to their health and safety than their non-white counterparts. The emergency is seen in the disparities people of color face in their access to preventative screening, cutting-edge diagnostic and treatment opportunities, and health coverage. We need to address this public health crisis – and that is why I have joined the coalition Tobacco Kills NY in pushing state leaders to end the sale of menthol cigarettes and all flavored tobacco products.

Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in Black men, and the second-leading cause in Black women. Tobacco-related cancer mortality is higher among Black people than white people because of historically higher smoking prevalence. That is not an accident: For decades, tobacco companies have disproportionately marketed menthol cigarettes to Black communities, fueling health disparities that have become a public health crisis.

What makes menthol so singularly dangerous is its ease of use. Menthol cigarettes are incredibly successful at masking the harshness of smoking, providing individuals with a smoother-feeling product that makes it harder to quit and can lead to greater addiction. Studies indicate that adults who smoke menthol cigarettes make more attempts to quit but have less success compared with adults who smoke non-menthol cigarettes. 

Menthol cigarettes must not be exempt from the conversation around tobacco use cessation; ignoring it would only exacerbate the disparities that burden New Yorkers of color. 

As they so often do, Big Tobacco is using fearmongering tactics and misinformation to scare communities of color into opposing this proposal. The fact is that this proposal does not prohibit or criminalize the individual purchase, use or possession of flavored tobacco products in any way. The exclusive focus is on prohibiting the sale of these products with enforcement only on licensed retailers by state and local health departments. This proposal will save countless lives, primarily the lives of people of color.

In my 20 years of practice, I have witnessed firsthand the impact tobacco can have on those who use it — too often in my patients of color. I am doing my part every day to save lives from tobacco. I need state lawmakers to do their part and stand up to Big Tobacco’s lies and end the sale of menthol cigarettes and all flavored tobacco products.


Dr. Arsyl D. De Jesus is a Capital Region oncologist and ACS CAN volunteer.