RHA Advocate to City Council: Keep Tobacco and Menthol Restrictions

Posted: 11/4/2016

Dear Esteemed City Council Members:
I am writing to ask you NOT to vote for repealing provisions in the law that restrict the sale of flavored tobacco including menthol near schools.  As a result of your leadership, the City of Chicago is a national leader in tobacco control policies that help to save lives by reducing smoking among youth and young adults.  However, we must remain firm on keep public health policies that are effective.  
Why is it important to keep menthol restrictions in place for those stores near schools?  Published research shows that the tobacco industry targets Black youth by increasing the amount of advertisements for menthol cigarettes in stores within walking distance of schools with high percentages of black students.  Advertisement rates are 50% higher in these areas.  The prices for mentholated New Port cigarettes are also 12 cents lower in these same stores. Young smokers are influenced by targeted advertisements and by price.  High levels of advertisements influence the perceptions, attitudes and eventual behaviors of youth.  Although the legal smoking age has been increased to 21 years, the predatory practices of the tobacco industry require that current restrictions remain in place to protect the health of our youngest residents.    
As a psychologist that has spent more than 10 years working with cancer patients, I have seen first-hand the ravaging effects of tobacco use most of which started with menthol. My current work is focused on the development of effective smoking cessation treatments for underserved populations of smokers including HIV+ positive smokers, low-income, African American smokers, and LGBT smokers.  
Among active adult smokers, there is a disproportionate use of menthol cigarettes among African Americans, Asian Americans, Hispanics and the LGBT community. Among the youth smokers of those same communities, menthol and favored tobacco is the preferred product because it is heavily marketed to them and menthol masks the harshness of tobacco.
I also have a personal investment in efforts to curb tobacco addiction.  My mother died three years ago at the age of 64 from lung cancer.  My mother was a beautiful, intelligent, and fiercely independent woman.  She started smoking menthol at age 13 as a teenager in the 60’s when more than half of all adults were current smokers.
I ask that the City Council keep the flavored tobacco and menthol restrictions. Too many lives, like those of my mother, are lost to tobacco.  We need to do all we can to prevent the tobacco industry from addicting more of our loved ones.  
Alicia K. Matthews, Ph.D.
Helen Grace Diversity Scholar
Director, Recruitment and Retention Core, Center for Clinical and Translation Science
University of Illinois at Chicago
College of Nursing
845 S. Damen Avenue
Chicago, IL 60612