• May 20, 2024

Rutgers to Study Menthol Ban Perception

 Rutgers to Study Menthol Ban Perception
Photo: By Benjamin Clapp

Rutgers University researchers have received more than $7 million to study disinformation and marketing around the proposed U.S. ban on menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars with a particular focus on how the information affects Black and Hispanic smokers, reports The Philadelphia Inquirer.

Kymberle Sterling, associate director for justice, equity, diversity and inclusion at the Rutgers Institute for Nicotine and Tobacco Studies, will lead two studies funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

According to Sterling, it’s crucial to study how Black and Hispanic smokers, demographic groups that tend to smoke more menthol cigarettes than white individuals, perceive messaging from the tobacco industry around the menthol ban.

Those against the ban worry that it will increase policing of Black communities and businesses while supporters feel that the ban will save lives, especially in Black communities where menthol is prevalent.  

“We know that police discrimination among African American communities is a problem,” Sterling said. “However, the tobacco industry is co-opting that and using that real social justice issue as a way to promote fear—and sell their product.”

Sterling’s team plans to use the funding to develop counter-messaging debunking false information and providing facts about menthol cigarettes. The study will look at the effectiveness of the public health campaign over five years. Researchers will also work with community members to educate individuals about the menthol and flavored cigar ban.

“What we would ideally like to do is develop a set of messages that our community partners can disseminate in their community. Once this grant is wrapped up, we don’t want the work to stop because the tobacco industry won’t stop,” Sterling said.

The study will also look at how the tobacco industry reacts once the ban is in place, such as new packaging.

“We’re looking at how young adults are exposed to this repackaging as well as what sort of sociopolitical rhetoric the industry will put out,” Sterling said.