Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced today that he has asked the Chicago Board of Health and the Chicago Department of Public Health (CDPH) to undertake a series of initiatives aimed at curtailing the use of menthol cigarettes by youth in Chicago.
“Recognizing and reducing the impact of menthol cigarettes on the lives of our youth is an essential part of building a healthier Chicago and increasing the quality of life for all residents across the City,” said Mayor Emanuel. “Working as partners with our health department, residents and youth, it is important that we do all that we can to encourage Chicago’s youth to make smart, healthy decisions as they become adults.”
In response to the Mayor’s call for action on this critical issue, the Chicago Board of Health and CDPH will host a series of town hall meetings to identify innovative, community-driven solutions to reduce menthol cigarette use among Chicago’s youth. This forum will engage residents and national content experts in conversation to reduce this preventable addiction before it becomes part of a young person’s life. In addition to the town hall meetings, CDPH is soliciting comments from Chicago residents via their website here.
In a letter to Board of Health president, Dr. Carolyn Lopez, Mayor Emanuel highlighted the particular dangers menthol cigarettes pose to young people. Specifically, among African American youth ages 12-17 who smoke, 72% use menthol cigarettes and among LGBT youth, 71% use menthol. Furthermore, if smokers begin the habit before age 18, they are 75% more likely to smoke as adults. Put simply, menthol cigarettes attract youth who would not otherwise be smokers, and by taking action to limit their use, it will have a dramatic positive effect on the community as a whole.
Derived from the peppermint plant, menthol provides a minty flavor and cooling sensation in cigarettes, covering up the tobacco taste and reducing the throat irritation associated with smoking, particularly among first-time users.
“Big tobacco is using menthol flavored cigarettes to turn our children into lifelong addicts,” Dr. Lopez said in response to the letter. “The Board of Health stands ready to work with Mayor Emanuel and our community to find new solutions to help our children. Engaging the residents of Chicago in this process will assist CDPH in finding solutions to this preventable issue.”
After receiving Mayor Emanuel’s letter, Dr. Lopez indicated that she plans to host four town hall meetings from August to September to gather feedback and ideas from content experts and Chicago residents, including Chicago’s African American, Latino and LGBT communities. The first meeting will be in conjunction with the monthly Chicago Board of Health meeting on August 21. Following the town hall meetings, the Board of Health and CDPH will release a comprehensive report detailing the feedback from participants. The report will also include youth feedback and policy recommendations from public health professionals, scientists and other content experts to help Mayor Emanuel create a more comprehensive menthol tobacco abatement strategy.
“Under Mayor Emanuel’s leadership the Chicago Department of Public Health looks forward to working with the community on this issue,” said Dr. Bechara Choucair. “Dialogue with residents will identify new, innovative strategies that will help our youth grow and prosper, which will in turn help Chicago grow and prosper.”
Mayor Emanuel has a long history of working to address smoking and the associated health risks, having worked on these critical issues as a U.S. Congressman and as Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama. In 2009, Mayor Emanuel worked with President Obama to bring together the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, granting the U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulatory control of tobacco products. This legislation gave the federal government authority over the manufacture of tobacco products, while leaving local governments with authority over other issues related to these matters. As a result, actions like the ones that will come from CDPH and the Chicago Board of Health are made possible by this legislation – especially targeted actions toward the sale and marketing of cigarettes to minors and the promotion of smoking to youth.
CDPH will also launch the Tobacco Prevention and Control program ad campaign in October that focuses on menthol cigarette use. These programs are part of Mayor Emanuel’s call to action under the City of Chicago’s Public Health agenda entitled “Healthy Chicago.” This is the first-ever comprehensive plan for public health put forth by the City and it continues to serve as a blueprint for a focused approach by CDPH to implement policies and systems changes to priorities and transform the health of Chicago.