By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
For The Birmingham Times
Dr. Nathaniel Brooks, pastor of Greater St. John Baptist Church in Powderly, knows what impact tobacco products can have on the African-American community and he warns about the dangers.
“Menthol and smoking menthol … is a form of a demon that has created so much corruption, and it’s in a form of addiction,” he said. “Studies have even shown how second-hand menthol smoke is detrimental to kids in a household.”
Brooks will participate in No Menthol Sunday, an international observance day led by The Center for Black Health & Equity that engages faith leaders and their communities in a discussion about how to improve health outcomes for African Americans.
Brooks will wear a black “No Menthol” face mask as he conducts service on Sunday and continues efforts to get church members to cut back or completely quit smoking, urging parishioners to pay close attention to what harm tobacco products can cause.
“This leads to cancer,” he said. “(Quitting) does a couple of things. It actually saves you money because cigarettes are high. It saves your life; it prevents other health problems or saves your health costs from going up from you having to pay if you have healthcare, your deductible.
“Also, it helps you balance out a healthier lifestyle for yourself, your children, and those that are connected to you the most.”
Smoking can also harm more than just the smoker, Brooks said.
“It also resides with those that are around it, who are inhaling and a part of it. We don’t know how many kids have inhaled and therefore grew up to smoke as well.”
Not to mention the health issues that can befall those children.
“Asthma. Eczema. Different sinus conditions,” the pastor said, listing illnesses. “Children can’t control the behavior of an adult and are subjected to second-hand smoke, not because they want to but because they’re made to.”
Brooks grew up in a home with a chain-smoking grandmother. He didn’t know then how he may have been affected. Now he urges others to stop smoking, or not start. “We’ve had many people come up to me and say, ‘Pastor, I’m doing better,’” Brooks recalled. “‘I either slowed down or I stopped smoking altogether.’”
Brooks is co-chair of the Community Advisory Board for the O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Office of Community Outreach and Engagement. The center, at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, has long been on the front line of the fight against cancer that comes as a result of smoking.
Now they have a new ally.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced on April 29 that it is working toward issuing proposed product standards within the next year to ban menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes and ban all characterizing flavors (including menthol) in cigars; the authority to adopt product standards is one of the most powerful tobacco regulatory tools Congress gave the agency.
“This movement from FDA is huge for us in the sense of banning not only menthol but flavor tobacco products, which is a huge initiation among youth,” said Isabel Scarinci, Ph.D., a professor and associate director for faculty development and education in the Division of Preventive Medicine at UAB. “They start with the flavor and then they get addicted and then they move on from there.”
And the minty taste of menthol is shown to be particularly harmful for people of color.
“African Americans and Latinos, especially African Americans, tend to smoke menthol and other flavors,” Scarinci said. “This is huge for us to reduce the burden of tobacco related diseases and in these populations.
“Tobacco is extremely, extremely addictive. You can see a lot of times in substance abuse. People say, ‘Gosh, I was able to quit crack cocaine but I can’t quit smoking,’ because it is very, very addictive.”
Claudia Hardy, program director and the Community Outreach Officer at UAB’s O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center, said the center endeavors to better understand the needs of cancer patients it serves in Alabama and neighboring Mississippi.
“One of the major things we have to get people to understand is the connection between tobacco, menthol and lung cancer so that they understand it,” Hardy said, “and whatever the behavior, whatever the stresses or the triggers are trying to address those.”
“We want to make sure that we understand how it impacts someone in an urban community as well as in a rural community, and definitely among our special populations from the LBGT community and to all the disparate communities.”