Smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease in the U.S., with a disproportionate impact on the Black community. Black people are more likely to die of smoking related illnesses — heart disease, cancer, and stroke — than white individuals. Black people are also more likely to smoke menthol cigarettes, be exposed to secondhand smoke, and have a harder time quitting. A proposed ban on menthol cigarettes announced on April 29, 2022 by the Food and Drug Administration creates critical new opportunities to support tobacco cessation.

This Center for Health Care Strategies (CHCS) panel discussion explored the roots and rates of tobacco use in the Black community, related disease burden, and opportunities at the state and community levels to improve health equity through targeted cessation efforts. Keith Wailoo, PhD, Professor of History and Public Affairs at Princeton University and CHCS Board member, detailed the history of predatory cigarette marketing drawing from his book, Pushing Cool: Big Tobacco, Racial Marketing, and the Untold Story of the Menthol Cigarette. A panel of experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, The Center for Black Health & Equity, and leaders from California and North Carolina discussed national, state, and community-level opportunities to improve tobacco cessation.

See also a set of related resources curated by event speakers and CHCS.

YouTube video


I. Welcome and Introduction

Speaker: Allison Hamblin, MPH, President and CEO, CHCS

A. Hamblin welcomed participants, introduced the panelists, and provided an overview of opportunities to address disparities in tobacco use and cessation through cross-sector partnerships.

II. Pushing Cool: Racial Marketing and the Untold Story of the Menthol Cigarette

Speaker: Keith Wailoo, PhD, Professor of History and Public Affairs, Princeton University, and CHCS Board member

K. Wailoo explored how the tobacco industry — under the guise of a “healthier and less harsh smoke” — has targeted menthol cigarettes to the Black community since the 1960s. Today, more than 80 percent of Black smokers use menthols, which are easier to smoke and more addictive. He shared implications of this racially exploitative marketing and opportunities to inform more equitable policy moving forward.

III. Panel: Addressing Disparities in Tobacco Use and Cessation

A. Hamblin moderated a discussion on opportunities to reduce disparities in tobacco use and address health equity through targeted cessation efforts. K. Wailoo served as a reactor to share the historical and policy perspective. Panelists included:

  • Sally Herndon, MPH, Head of the Tobacco Prevention and Control Branch, Division of Public Health, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services
  • Delmonte Jefferson, Executive Director, The Center for Black Health & Equity
  • Karla Sneegas, MPH, Branch Chief, Program Services Branch, CDC Office on Smoking and Health
  • Cindy Valencia, PhD, MPH, Operations Director, CA Quits, UC Davis Center for Healthcare Policy and Research 

Related Resources