African American clergy defend their communities

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by Carol McGruder

Mt. Sinai Pastor George E. Hurtt – Photo: Dennis Wafford
Mt. Sinai Pastor George E. Hurtt – Photo: Dennis Wafford

Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church of Los Angeles joined religious institutions across the nation as it hosted the first No e cig observance in Southern California. NoMenthol Sunday is a national interfaith effort that educates congregants about the role mentholated and candy-flavored tobacco products play in addicting African Americans to tobacco products.

Over 45,000 Black people die every year from tobacco related diseases; it is by far the No. 1 preventable cause of death. NoMenthol Sunday is the African American expression of World No Tobacco Day, which is an international day of observance and resistance against multi-national tobacco companies. It was started by the World Health Organization in 1988 to bring attention to the serious global health issue of tobacco.

Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church of Los Angeles joined religious institutions across the nation as it hosted the first NoMenthol Sunday observance in Southern California.

The Save Lives-Ban Menthol Coalition was created and took the day as their own when menthol was the only characterizing flavor not banned by the Food and Drug Administration when it was given authority to regulate cigarettes in 2009. The National African American Tobacco Prevention Network, the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council and African American leaders, including the Congressional Black Caucus, took umbrage at menthol’s exclusion.

Adding menthol to cigarettes makes smoking easier to start and harder to quit. By adding this flavoring, tobacco companies have successfully recruited both youth and marginalized populations.

NoMenthol Sunday is a national interfaith effort that educates congregants about the role mentholated and candy-flavored tobacco products play in addicting African Americans to tobacco products.

This exclusion quickly became a social justice issue because over 80 percent of Black smokers use mentholated cigarettes, which is a direct result of the pernicious tobacco industry targeting of Black communities. Studies show that placing a ban on menthol may save lives and prevent 9 million people from starting to smoke.

NoMenthol Sunday leaders: Sharmaine White, Mt. Sinai; Dr. Valerie Yerger, The LOOP Project Director; Tavon Morrison, Mt. Sinai; Dr. Susan Bradshaw, The LOOP fellow; Carol McGruder, The LOOP Leadership Specialist – Photo: Dennis Wafford
NoMenthol Sunday leaders: Sharmaine White, Mt. Sinai; Dr. Valerie Yerger, The LOOP Project Director; Tavon Morrison, Mt. Sinai; Dr. Susan Bradshaw, The LOOP fellow; Carol McGruder, The LOOP Leadership Specialist – Photo: Dennis Wafford

Mt. Sinai’s Pastor George E. Hurtt prayed and spoke lovingly of the need for congregants to embrace and uplift Black smokers as they seek information and support to stop smoking. Mt. Sinai has a strong health emphasis and regularly includes health promoting activities. The service was well received, with 200 members in attendance.

Dr. Susan Bradshaw addresses Mt. Sinai congregants. – Photo: Dennis Wafford
Dr. Susan Bradshaw addresses Mt. Sinai congregants. – Photo: Dennis Wafford

The NoMenthol Sunday effort was coordinated by Mt. Sinai members Tavon Morrison and Sharmaine White, under the leadership of Dr. Susan Bradshaw, MD, MPH. Dr. Bradshaw works with the Division of Chronic Disease and Injury Prevention for the Department of Public Health in Los Angeles County.

As a tobacco treatment specialist and researcher, Dr. Bradshaw spoke passionately about how young people are lured with cigarette packaging that looks like candy, how easy it is to get addicted to nicotine, how hard it is to quit and, more importantly, the deadly impact that tobacco has had on her community. After the services, her team shared resources and information.

NoMenthol Sunday events will continue throughout the month of June. To get more information or host an event at your faith institution, please contact Y’Lonn Burris at 888-881-6619 or by email, yburris@aatclc.org.

Carol McGruder, co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council and award-winning advocate, can be reached at cmcgruder@usa.net.

2 COMMENTS

  1. As a Black father, grandfather and Christian, I totally support educating our people on the dangers associated with tobacco use. Growing up in Baltimore, MD, I bear witness to the high rates of tobacco use among the Black community, which includes our young. Unfortunately, as a 34 year law enforcement veteran, I also bear witness to what happens when you prohibit a highly consumable product or products. Does the war on drugs sound familiar to you? Or should I say war on Black people. What happens when we ban popular tobacco products, especially when those products are used more so in the Black community than any other? Will these products disappear, or do we drive them underground into a submerged market? Do they become more dangerous to consume and more dangerous to sell? How do we enforce the ban of a product and market that we have now driven underground? In the past, we've given it to the police to enforce. What happens to the already strained relationship between police and the Black community? Do we end up with more Eric Garner situations as the police swoop down on Black citizens engaged in the NEW underground menthol market?

    Please don't misunderstand me, I get the health part of this 100%. I just don't want our perceived cure to be worse than the current situation. The war on drugs has decimated the Black family over the past few decades by criminalizing more Blacks than any other scenario. Let us not unwittingly travel this road again. We've been successful at reducing tobacco consumption in this country by 40% over the past couple of decades. This success is due to education, treatment and social influence. We've arrested no Black folks, sent none to prison and we have no shoot outs in our neighborhoods among the store owners who sell them. Let's not travel that road again.

    Let's have more NoMenthol days, increase education among our young, continue with treatment and bolster social influence. Let's not do anything that can potentially lead to the criminalization of use, possession or sales of tobacco. Believe me when I say, it won't fair well for Black folks.

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