New York State Department of Health Warns About Tobacco Industry's Tactics of Using Menthol Flavoring to Target and Addict Black & LGBTQIA+ Communities and Kids

"It's Not Just" Media Campaign Aims To End The Misconception That Menthol Is Just A Flavor

View Campaign Ad Here

ALBANY, N.Y. (March 7, 2023) – The New York State Department of Health, in conjunction with local tobacco control partners, has relaunched an award-winning media campaign to draw attention to the tobacco industry's marketing and promotion of menthol-flavored tobacco products specifically to youth, Black, and LGBTQIA+ communities. The "It's Not Just" campaign, a statewide initiative that originally started in 2021, is focused on ending the misconception that menthol is just a harmless flavor, when in fact, tobacco companies intentionally add menthol to cigarettes and other tobacco products to make smoking easier to start and harder to quit.

"For decades, Big Tobacco has aggressively targeted Black Americans with their marketing and this campaign highlights just how manipulative and deadly those tactics are," Acting State Health Commissioner Dr. James McDonald said. "Because of decades of deceptive menthol marketing and massive amounts of money pushed into their neighborhoods, Black Americans smoke menthol cigarettes at much higher rates."

In February, the Department highlighted Governor Hochul's proposal to end the sale of all flavored tobacco products, such as menthol cigarettes, flavored cigars and cigarillos, and flavored smokeless tobacco, expanding upon the State's ban on the sale of flavored vaping products. If this proposal passes the Legislature, New York would be the third state to do so.

Smoking-related illnesses are the number one cause of death among Black Americans, surpassing all other causes of death, including AIDS, homicide, diabetes, and accidents, according to a report from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. Public education campaigns, such as the "It's Not Just" campaign, are an effective and evidence-based strategy that can reduce the number of youths who start smoking, increase the number of smokers who quit, and make tobacco industry marketing less effective, resulting in saved lives and health care dollars.

According to the Department's 2020 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey, tobacco use disproportionately affects communities that have been targeted with advertising and marketing by the tobacco industry. The tobacco industry's influence in New York continues to drive commercial tobacco-related disparities and inequities:

  • Annually, the tobacco industry spends $9.1 billion (almost $1 million every hour) to market and promote their deadly and addictive products nationally and of that total, an estimated $177.3 million is spent in the Empire State each year.
  • For more than 60 years, the tobacco industry has specifically targeted Black communities with menthol tobacco product marketing and promotions. As a result, in New York State, menthol cigarettes are used by over half of all adult smokers (52%), while 86% of Black and 72% of Hispanic smokers smoke menthol cigarettes.

The Department recently released the results of a Chronic Disease Survey, which found:

  • 70% of respondents think the marketing of tobacco products directed specifically towards communities of color, including Black and Hispanic individuals, is either a very or somewhat serious public health problem.
  • 72% of people who live in New York support a ban on the sale of menthol cigarettes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the aggressive marketing of menthol-flavored tobacco products, particularly to Black people, makes it more likely that they will smoke menthol cigarettes than other populations. The report shows that tobacco companies add menthol to commercial tobacco products to make them seem less harsh and more appealing to young people, and to people who have never used tobacco products.

The CDC report also found that menthol enhances the effects of nicotine on the brain and can make tobacco products even more addictive and tobacco companies have increased the amount of nicotine in some menthol cigarettes.

The "It's Not Just" campaign is intended to educate people across New York State about the injustice of menthol-flavored tobacco product marketing and promotion. The campaign uses direct language and powerful, emotional imagery of people who represent communities targeted by Big Tobacco. It describes how menthol is more than a flavor, highlighting hard-hitting facts about the manipulative, aggressive nature of menthol tobacco marketing and its impact on Black communities, youth, and the LGBTQIA+ community.

The campaign advertisement that focuses on the impact of menthol on the Black community can be viewed here.

The advertisement and information about menthol's impact on the LGBTQIA+ community can be viewed here.

Information about menthol's impact on youth and the campaign advertisement can be viewed here.

Learn more about how to help fight the injustice of menthol-flavored tobacco products on the campaign's It's Not Just website and the Tobacco Free NYS website.

For New Yorkers who want to quit smoking, the New York State Smokers' Quitline provides free and confidential services, including information, tools, quit coaching, and support in both English and Spanish. Services are available by calling 1-866 NY-QUITS (1-866-697-8487), texting (716) 309-4688, or visiting for information, to chat online with a Quit Coach, or to sign up for Learn2QuitNY, a six-week, step-by-step text messaging program to build the skills needed to quit any tobacco product.

Information about the Department's Tobacco Control Program is available here.