Research findings will help inform Black and Hispanic communities about the proposed FDA ban on menthol cigarettes

Two new grants exceeding $7 million will help the Rutgers Institute for Nicotine and Tobacco Studies research how Black and Hispanic young adults perceive messaging about the Food and Drug Administration’s proposed ban on menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars.

The National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities awarded the institute $3.2 million over five years and The National Institute on Drug Abuse funded an award of $4.07 million over five years.

Both grants aim to build the scientific evidence and address potential threats that can undermine the impact of a ban on menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, products that are disproportionately used by young adults in Black and Hispanic communities as a result of targeted marketing by the tobacco industry.

The FDA’s proposed ban is estimated to prevent 300,000 to 650,000 smoking-related deaths over several decades, most among Black and Hispanic Americans, who disproportionately smoke menthols and little cigars. This population is less likely to have access to affordable health and medical care, coverage for tobacco cessation and is more likely to live in areas with more tobacco retailers.

“The tobacco industry has a history of targeting historically under-resourced communities with tactics that use racial profiling, neighborhood demographics and cultural elements to promote tobacco sales,” said Kymberle Sterling, the principal investigator of the study who is the associate director for Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at the Rutgers Institute for Nicotine and Tobacco Studies. “It’s critical to better understand and address flavor ban disinformation as well as how it is received in these communities.

Sterling, who also is an associate professor in the Department of Health Behavior, Society, and Policy and assistant dean for Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion for Faculty and Talent Development at the Rutgers School of Public Health, added: “Currently, there are no current communication efforts to address the role of structural racism and the tobacco industry’s opportunist use of it to disseminate disinformation about the impacts of the flavor ban.”

The grants will help researchers evaluate the impact the disinformation campaigns about the flavor ban has on these communities and create culturally relevant communications that correct misperceptions about menthol cigarette and flavored cigars’ use. The findings will provide scientific evidence to determine if messages that address the flavor ban disinformation influence this population’s beliefs about menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars, little filtered cigars and the tobacco industry and predict intention to support flavored tobacco policies.

This communication is crucial when the ban takes effect as young adults in these communities will likely turn to other products.

“We have early indicators that these smokers have no plans to quit when the proposed ban is implemented and will use other flavored tobacco products that the FDA will not ban,” Sterling said. “Little is known about Black and Hispanic youths’ preferences for other flavored products not included in the impending ban or for purchasing banned flavored little filtered cigars from illicit sources.”