By Delmonte Jefferson
The Center for Black Health & Equity in partnership with the Wisconsin African American Tobacco Prevention Network
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and at The Center for Black Health & Equity (The Center), May is also No Menthol Sunday Month. The fight against menthol is one that has had numerous forces stripping away the health and wealth of the Black community. It is a fight that includes internal community stakeholders and external forces joining together to implement Big Tobacco’s relentless tactics that keep Black Americans addicted to their deadly product. In Wisconsin, Blacks smoke at a much higher rate than the general population (24% vs 13%), and 9 in 10 Black smokers use menthols. This is a struggle against all of the daily stressors Black Americans face that drive us to these products and keep us there without culturally appropriate tools to find a way out.
The Center began No Menthol Sunday nine years ago to involve the faith community in efforts to combat tobacco’s grip on the Black community. The Wisconsin African American Tobacco Prevention Network has been leading No Menthol Sunday organizing efforts in that state for the past six years. We believe that after so many years of tobacco addiction ravaging the health and stability of Black communities, the damage control should begin within the places that have always been our refuge–our churches, masjids and other places of worship. No Menthol Sunday is where we do the internal work of peeling back the layers of tobacco addiction in our communities.
On the third Sunday of every May, this year May 21, we support faith leaders in educating congregants about smoking, vaping and the role menthol and other tobacco flavors have in harming our communities. In Wisconsin, more than 80 churches and community organizations are planning to host No Menthol Sunday activities that will reach more than 20,000 residents. At its heart, No Menthol Sunday is also a day of support as we open our safe spaces to help people who struggle with nicotine addiction find resources and information about beginning a new quit journey. Community is where the strength in this fight really lies.
In addition to dealing with individual struggles with addiction, No Menthol Sunday is also a time to support policy change at the national and local level. No Menthol Sunday encourages involvement in advocacy efforts to ban the sale of mentholated products locally and to support the ban of menthol at the federal level. Policy change is an ongoing process and takes time, but the Black community has always made our greatest strides to betterment with our own by remaining vigilant, educating our youth and inspiring community action. On May 21, we will continue our fight toward health justice by focusing on victory against the tobacco industry and going against the grain of nicotine addiction. To learn more about or find a No Menthol Sunday event in Wisconsin visit NoMentholSundayWi.com. For free help to quit using tobacco call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.