An ‘assault on African-American health’: Lecture at VCU takes aim at menthol tobacco products

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A man in a blue shirt.
Phillip Gardiner, Dr.P.H.

A leading expert in health disparities and a prominent voice against menthol cigarettes will speak at Virginia Commonwealth University about menthol cigarettes and flavored menthol tobacco products, such as flavored e-juices, that disproportionately affect the health of African-Americans.

Phillip Gardiner, Dr.P.H., will give a lecture, “What's Menthol Got To Do With It? Everything!,” at 4 p.m. on Monday, Nov. 5, at the VCU Institute for Contemporary Art, 601 W. Broad St. The event will be free and open to the public.

It is sponsored by the Center for the Study of Tobacco Products, which is administered within the Department of Psychology, part of the College of Humanities and Sciences, with linkages to the Massey Cancer Center at VCU Health. The center brings together a multidisciplinary team of faculty and staff at VCU and several other U.S. and international institutions to focus on the regulation of tobacco products, an issue of immediate concern to public health.

“The Center for the Study of Tobacco Products is thrilled to offer the VCU community the opportunity to hear Dr. Gardiner speak,” said Thomas Eissenberg, Ph.D., professor of psychology and co-director of the center. “His topic concerns how menthol cigarettes are a continued assault on African-American health. I anticipate that Dr. Gardiner will identify local solutions that we can implement here in Richmond, and I urge the VCU community to attend.”

Gardiner is the senior program officer for the Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program within the University of California Office of the President, where he oversees the scientific inquiry associated with e-cigarettes. In 2013, Gardiner worked with the Chicago Department of Public Health to help pass a local ordinance, the first of its kind in the country, to restrict the selling of menthol and other flavored tobacco products within 500 feet of city schools. The following year, the cities of Baltimore and Minneapolis began discussions on regulating menthol.

He also has been instrumental in helping to shape local e-cigarette regulatory policies across the country, including in San Francisco and Beverly Hills.

Throughout his research career, Gardiner has maintained his community activism to address racial disparities in health through writing, organizing, evaluating and public speaking. For the past 15 years, he has lectured around the country on African-American health disparities generally and menthol smoking in the black community, particularly.

He is also co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, a group of black professionals dedicated to fighting tobacco’s impact in the African-American community in California and nationally.

At his lecture at VCU, Gardiner will discuss how menthol cigarettes are disproportionately used by African-American smokers: 85 percent of adults and 94 percent of youth.

“These products are more heavily advertised and the prices are cheaper in the black community,” according to the lecture’s abstract. “Menthol, when added to cigarettes, allows for deeper inhalation, the intake of greater toxins, and nicotine makes menthol cigarettes harder to quit. These phenomena, coupled with lack of health coverage and distrust of the health system, has led to African-Americans dying disproportionately from tobacco-related disease.

“And to add insult to injury, when the Senate empowered the FDA to regulate tobacco — [the Senate] outlawed 13 flavors in 2009 — it exempted menthol,” it continued. “Today, menthol selling restrictions are principally taking place at the local level, with much momentum created after San Francisco passed the first citywide restriction on the sale of menthol and all flavored menthol tobacco products, including flavored e-juices.”