It’s Not Just – Tobacco Free Zone & Statewide Partners Kick off Campaign Focused on Menthol-Flavored Tobacco Products That Attract & Addict Youth

Posted by  //  May 18, 2022  //  News

More than half of youth who smoke use menthol cigarettes

The Tobacco Free Zone of Cortland, Tompkins & Chenango Counties and statewide partners are kicking off the statewide launch of the “It’s Not Just” campaign, intended to educate people across New York State about the tobacco industry’s historically inequitable marketing and promotion of menthol-flavored tobacco products. The It’s Not Just campaign speaks from the youth perspective, blending powerful imagery with direct quotes by tobacco executives to highlight the striking contrast between how the industry views youth and how youth see themselves. It is an extension of the campaign launched in May 2021 to urge the public to take action against the hard-hitting menthol-flavored tobacco product marketing that has targeted and harmed Black communities for decades. 

“For decades, tobacco companies have used flavors to recruit a new generation of users,” said Jennifer Hamilton, Tobacco Free Zone Community Engagement Coordinator with the Cortland County Health Department. “Menthol cigarettes, which are the only flavored cigarettes still on the market, are easier to start and more difficult to quit, which can accelerate addiction.” 

The campaign is timely with the release of the Food and Drug Association proposed rules that would remove menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars from the market. Hamilton notes that “while it’s great that the FDA has taken these additional steps to address menthol cigarettes, their rulemaking process is very lengthy and there’s no guarantee the rules will ultimately be implemented. We would expect the tobacco industry to aggressively fight this proposal. Communities can continue to take action at the local level to protect their residents.” 

The tobacco industry tracks the behaviors and preferences of youth under 21 because it sees “today’s teenager as tomorrow’s potential regular customer.” 1 To mask the harshness of smoke, tobacco companies use flavor, like menthol, in their products to make them more appealing to new users, almost all of whom are under 18.2 In fact, nearly 81% of youth who have ever tried tobacco started with a flavored product, and more than half (54%) of youth ages 12-17 years who smoke use menthol cigarettes.3,4 Flavored tobacco products pose a serious health threat to today’s youth. 

Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States and worldwide.6 According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 5.6 million of today’s Americans younger than 18 will die early from smoking-related illness if the current rate of youth smoking continues.7,8 Even more shocking, every adult who dies early due to smoking is replaced by two new young smokers.

Individuals can learn more about how to help fight the injustice of menthol-flavored tobacco products at the campaign’s website:

Additional statistics: 

Menthol and tobacco marketing 

  • Tobacco companies have a long history of developing and marketing flavored tobacco products as “starter” products that attract kids.3,11 
  • Tobacco companies market menthol cigarettes as “smoother” than other cigarettes.4,13
  • Documents from the tobacco industry show that the industry studied smokers’ menthol preferences and manipulated menthol levels to appeal to adolescents and young adults. 9
  • Research shows that the tobacco industry attracted new smokers by promoting cigarettes with lower menthol content, which is popular among adolescents and young adults.9 
  • Tobacco companies spend $8.4 billion each year to promote their deadly products, much of which directly reaches and influences kids.10  

Menthol usage and addiction

  • Menthol cigarettes lead to increased smoking initiation among youth and young adults, greater addiction and decreased success in quitting smoking.2
  • Menthol cools and numbs the throat, reducing the harshness of cigarette smoke, making menthol cigarettes more appealing to youth.2
  • Over 7 out of 10 African American youth ages 12-17 years who smoke use menthol cigarettes. 14,15 

Health impact 

  • Menthol cigarettes are not less harmful than other cigarettes, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has found that they are likely a greater risk to public health than non-menthol cigarettes.4
  • Researchers estimate that if a menthol ban had gone into effect in 2011, 320,000 smoking-attributed deaths would have been averted by 2050.5,12
  • Menthol cigarette smokers are as likely to experience premature morbidity and mortality as non-menthol cigarette smokers.12

Support available for New Yorkers who want to quit

The New York State Smokers’ Quitline is a confidential service for all New York State residents who wish to overcome tobacco use, including e-cigarettes. Free offerings include individualized coaching and assistance with quit-planning from highly trained Quit Coaches, text and chat support, and free shipping of stop-smoking medications such as nicotine patches or nicotine gum for those 18 and older. Residents of all ages may contact the Quitline for support and educational materials. In addition, the Quitline encourages teens and young adults (ages 13-24) to text “DROPTHEVAPE” to 88709 to join This Is Quitting, a free texting support program for help with quitting vaping. Visit anytime for more information or call 1-866-NY-QUITS (1-866-697-8487) seven days a week, beginning at 9 a.m.

Tobacco Free New York State and Reality Check student groups around the state have worked tirelessly to educate local communities on the tobacco industry’s use of menthol and other flavored tobacco products as a tool to target, attract and addict new smokers. Tobacco Free New York State, including the Reality Check student youth groups, is part of the NYS Tobacco Control Program.

About Tobacco Free Zone

The Tobacco Free Zone program of Cortland, Tompkins and Chenango Counties, a grant held with the Cortland County Health Department, works to foster environments supportive of policies that reinforce the tobacco-free norm in our communities. Learn more at

  1. “Tobacco Company Quotes on Marketing to Kids.” Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, 2021.  
  2. “Impact of Menthol Cigarettes on Youth Smoking Initiation and Health Disparities.” Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, 2021.
  3. “Flavored Tobacco Products Attract Kids: Brief Overview of Key Issues.” Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, 2022.
  4. “Menthol and Cigarettes.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, updated July 16, 2021.
  5. “Menthol” fact sheet. Truth Initiative, 2018.
  6. “Fast Facts.”  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, updated June 2, 2021.
  7. “Youth and Tobacco Use.”  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, updated December 16, 2020.
  8. “Smoking and Youth.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, updated November 5, 2019.
  9. Jennifer M. Kreslake, MPH; Geoffrey Ferris Wayne, MA; Hillel R. Alpert, ScM; Howard K. Koh, MD, MPH; and Gregory N. Connolly, DMD, MPH. “Tobacco Industry Control of Menthol in Cigarettes and Targeting of Adolescents and Young Adults.” American Journal of Public Health, updated October 10, 2011.
  10. “Smoking and Kids.” Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, 2021.
  11. “The Flavor Trap: How Tobacco Companies Are Luring Kids with Candy-Flavored E-Cigarettes and Cigars.” Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, 2017.
  12. “Menthol: Facts, stats and regulations.” Truth Initiative, 2018.
  13. “Preliminary Scientific Evaluation of the Possible Public Health Effects of Menthol Versus Nonmenthol Cigarettes.” Food and Drug Administration, 2013.
  14. Center for Disease Control and Prevention. “African Americans and Tobacco Use,”, updated November 16, 2020.
  15. Gardiner PS, “The African Americanization of Menthol Cigarette Use in the United States,” Nicotine and Tobacco Research 2004; 6:Suppl 1:S55-65 [cited 2018 Jun 12].

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