What's that smell?

by Vivian Diep in May 13th, 2022

A ban on menthol could help Black smokers quit

Sat Apr 18

Menthol cigarettes may soon be banned in the U.S. in an effort to both reduce smoking rates and save lives — especially Black ones. Menthol (mint oil) cigarettes were first introduced in 1920 as a “safer alternative,” but in actuality, are far more addictive due to the minty sweet and tangy flavor and cooling sensation. Regulators caught on, though, and by 1964 had barred tobacco companies from targeting their key youth demographic.

So what did companies do to maintain profit? Shift their focus to Black communities:

  • First, companies began running TV commercials, which was a proven way to reach Black audiences, and placed ads in publications popular with Black audiences.
  • As profit picked up, companies got more aggressive. They sponsored Black community events, such as jazz and hip-hop festivals. They even handed out free menthol cigarettes in Black communities.
  • And years later in 2009, the FDA banned flavored cigarettes but menthol was excluded, leading public health groups to call out the FDA for discrimination against Black people. Even today, 85% of all menthol cigarette smokers are Black.

Now, the FDA is pushing for a complete ban to reduce tobacco-related diseases in the Black community, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, stroke, and diabetes. In fact, Black men have the highest rates of lung cancer of any demographic in the country. And with so many smokers, 66% of Black children have also been exposed to second-hand smoke. The U.S. ban follows Canada’s — which led to over one million people quitting smoking — and England’s in 2020.

Of course, cigarette companies are not pleased, and are even paying advocates to support them. One organization funded directly by a major menthol cigarette maker claims the ban would promote criminal activity. Others say it’ll just push the products into illegal markets. Meanwhile, one study shows that 45% of Black people say they’ll quit smoking altogether if menthol is banned.

Methane isn’t as efficient as once thought

Tue May 3

If you’ve been reading our newsletter for a while you know the EPA has had its questionable moments. The latest finding is all about what the Environmental Protection Agency has not been finding: methane leaks.

First off, it’s important to understand the shift the industry had been making from burning coal to methane (natural gas). Methane was stated to burn more efficiently and therefore be a better alternative for the climate, leading more companies to make the switch. Using an EPA formula, natural gas companies wouldn’t have to physically monitor emissions. Instead, the formula allowed them to make estimates based on infrastructure and then self-report.

But now two concerns have emerged:

  1. The EPA formula doesn’t account for the inevitable occurrence of methane leaks, and early findings show that these leaks outweigh the benefits of switching from coal.
  2. Recent research shows that methane’s impact on the environment has been underestimated by up to 40%. On top of that, methane traps 84x more heat than a similar amount of carbon dioxide. Tracking methane emissions will now be critical in the efforts to slow climate change.

And with gas prices soaring, plugging leaks is saving millions of dollars for gas companies, prompting more flyovers and satellite imaging that show leaks are 20 times bigger than estimated. Simultaneously, countries are desperate for alternatives to Russian oil and gas, which means they could rush to lock in more natural gas infrastructure just as all this nascent monitoring is telling us how bad it all really is.

The EPA has since pushed forward a proposal to address methane leaks, though experts say it’s clear more government oversight is needed. Some suggest enlisting the work of the Environmental Defense Fund, who have already determined a number of methods for calculating methane emissions and catching leaks.


Two Wrongs Make Them Right?

Liberty University is now under investigation by the Department of Education for violation of federal law. ProPublica revealed the school failed to help victims of sexual assault, even removing photo evidence from a case for being too explicit. Worse, the school also punishes these students for running afoul of their moral code, aka “The Liberty Way,” which includes a ban on being in any state of undress with a member of the opposite sex. In other words, sexual assault victims not only deal with a low probability of having their case properly handled, they’ll likely be punished for whatever violation of The Liberty Way was reported in the assault case file. Altogether, the school makes it near impossible for students to report sexual violence and will retaliate against women who do.

>> Read More

Trails Have New Rules for When Nature Calls

Leave No Trace is a great policy to follow if you enjoy the outdoors. But, it’s no longer enough. There are so many visitors to public lands in recent decades that it’s not recommended anymore to just dig a hole for your outdoor bathroom breaks. This shallow burial will not stop pathogens even a year later and modern-day human excrement contains chemicals, hormones (from birth control), and antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Why is this problematic? Besides trails looking and smelling like a sewer, such amounts of human feces in the environment contaminates our food and water, not to mention the risk of accidentally ingesting E. coli while playing in nature. So next time, bring “waste alleviation and gelling” bags (and hand sanitizer) to safely pack your poop out.

>> Read More

Action of the Week

Want to get your thoughts heard on whether or not menthol cigarettes should be banned? There’s still 53 more days to get your formal comments submitted! Learn how and submit directly on the Federal Register.


  • New York Times: FDA announces ban 25 days old | 14 minutes long
  • Slate: Menthol in communities 1 year old | 24 minutes long
  • NPR: Tobacco industry marketing 14 days old | 2 minutes long
  • Truth Initiative: Racial justice & tobacco 1.5 years old | 5 minutes long
  • Bloomberg: Methane is leaking 10 days old | 18 minutes long
  • National Geographic: Underestimating methane 2 years old | 10 minute read
  • EDF: EDF researched methods 6 minutes long


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What a crappy hiking trail.

Art Credit: Krogg98

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