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Former smoker shares how she quit menthol cigarettes

Posted at 11:13 AM, Dec 01, 2023

While the White House continues to review the FDA's menthol ban proposal and hold meetings with various lobbying groups, public health organizations are sharing quitting success stories from ex-menthol smokers.

Millie Martinez from The Bronx, New York, is one of them.

"I started smoking at the tender age of 14 years old in high school."

She says, for decades, she smoked menthol cigarettes.

"I had three children, kept on smoking. Nothing. My health. I suffered from high blood pressure. That didn't stop me from smoking. Went through medical problems, that didn't stop me. But the birth of my grandchild did."

That was November of last year. Martinez felt so bad about smoking in front of the baby and decided it was finally time to give it up. She did that by joining a support group called the EX Program from the public health organization, Truth Initiative.

"You tell your story, and people respond quickly and give you help and tips on how to stop smoking. And each day you make a pledge where you pledge not to smoke and you're willing to help the next person in line. And that also helps because it's like you have a team behind you."

According to the CDC, menthol enhances the effects of nicotine on your brain and can make tobacco products more addictive. The public health agency reports that in cigarettes, menthol creates a cooling sensation in your throat, making the smoke easier to inhale since it suppresses coughing.

The tobacco industry has argued against a menthol ban. A spokesperson from R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, which makes Newport, the leading menthol cigarette brand in the country, provided the below statement:

"The published science shows that menthol cigarettes do not present any greater risk of smoking-related disease compared to non-menthol cigarettes. As a result, we do not believe the published science supports regulating menthol cigarettes differently from non-menthol cigarettes.

We believe that properly regulated flavors can play an important role in the choice of adult nicotine consumers to transition to new products as an alternative to traditional cigarettes.   

We strongly believe there are more effective ways to deliver tobacco harm reduction than banning products. Evidence from other markets where similar bans have been imposed demonstrates little impact on overall cigarette consumption. Banning products often leads to unintended consequences such as the increase of illegal/unregulated products flooding the market."

Menthol has become a big social justice issue. The CDC and other public health organizations report menthol cigarettes have contributed to tobacco-related health disparities in our country.

"When it comes to commercial tobacco and public health in general, but especially health equity, we really need to understand that tobacco is still a huge issue in our country," said Natasha Phelps, Director of Equity-Centered Policies for The Center for Black Health & Equity.

"Nearly nine in 10 African American smokers currently use a menthol product, whether that's cigarettes or cigars. And they experience much higher death rates and tobacco-related diseases, lower quit rates than other tobacco users," said Megan Jacobs, Vice President of Product, Innovations at Truth Initiative.

Quitting isn't easy. Martinez says she recently slipped up and smoked. But it wasn't a menthol cigarette and that's what got her thinking.

"I realized that it's the menthol that I enjoy. It's that little flavor. and I just took a couple of puffs, and I threw it out."

"And when I realized that, you know, I came back, went on the EX Program, admitted my mistake, but everyone was so, 'You know, it's okay! No pressure. No, you know, you're not a bad person.' None of that. It's all love and support."