Newly proposed policy to ban sales of all flavored tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes, could prompt more residents to use Quitline services
Guest Editorial by the New York State Smokers' Quitline
Ammonia. Formaldehyde. Arsenic. When wrapped inside a menthol cigarette, fumes from these and other deadly chemicals become more palatable to inhale. Approximately 1.7 million New York state residents still smoke, and flavored tobacco products such as menthol cigarettes make it easier to become addicted and harder to quit.
The team at the New York State Smokers' Quitline, which has responded to nearly 3 million calls since it began operating in 2000, continues to closely monitor a proposed policy as part of the New York state 2024 executive budget that would ban the sale of all flavored commercial tobacco products, including menthol cigarettes.
Sarah Pearson-Collins, the Quitline's director of training development and support, understands the added challenges of assisting someone who uses these products.
"Adding menthol flavoring to cigarettes makes smoking more palatable by numbing the throat to allow a deeper inhalation," Pearson-Collins said. "Those who smoke menthol cigarettes have an added barrier in their quit-journey beyond simply overcoming what they perceive to be a smooth, minty flavor. Menthol produces an additional layer to the addictive nature of nicotine by binding to brain receptors and changing how the brain responds. Our certified tobacco treatment specialists are trained to provide an individualized approach with Quitline participants by identifying smoking patterns and understanding harmful behaviors."
With 28,000 New York state residents dying every year from smoking-attributed causes, and hundreds of thousands more suffering a variety of negative health effects, the proposed flavor ban could provide another impetus for those considering to initiate a quit-attempt.
Former smoker and Quitline participant Betty E. of Brooklyn smoked menthol cigarettes for nearly 36 years. Now age 61, she has enjoyed a year of being free from commercial tobacco use and wishes the same for others struggling to quit.
"The menthol flavor made it so much harder to quit, and it was easy to get hooked on from the first try," Betty said. "These cigarettes ultimately control your everyday life and trick your brain into thinking they'll relieve you of psychological distress."
National advocates contend the ban of menthol sales addresses a racial justice issue and acts as a deterrent for youth smoking. Locally, New York state's tobacco control program amplifies similar messages through a media and community advocacy campaign called "It's Not Just," with information available at https://notjustmenthol.org. The campaign promotes the Quitline as a resource for those seeking to become free from using commercial tobacco.
"Our specialists are available seven days a week to provide personalized support for those who wish to no longer smoke or vape," Pearson-Collins said. "To help people on their journey to better health, we're able to provide nearly all adult Quitline participants with a starter supply of free nicotine replacement therapy medications – such as nicotine patches, nicotine gum or nicotine lozenges, shipped right to their home address."
The team at the New York State Smokers' Quitline remains ready to support anyone seeking assistance to overcome addiction to smoking and/or vaping. To connect to the Quitline, residents can call 1-866-NY-QUITS (1-866-697-8487), text QUITNOW to 333888, or visit nysmokefree.com.
The New York State Smokers' Quitline is a service of the New York State Department of Health and based at Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. The Quitline encourages tobacco and vape product users to talk with their health care professionals and access available Medicaid or health insurance benefits for medication support. All New York state residents can call 1-866-NY-QUITS (1-866-697-8487) or text QUITNOW to 333888 for coaching and resources, free of charge, seven days a week beginning at 9 a.m. Visit www.nysmokefree.com for more information.
Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center is the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in upstate New York. Learn more at www.roswellpark.org, call 1-800-ROSWELL (1-800-767-9355) or email [email protected].