Sabrina Smiley wants to talk to menthol smokers — and retailers

A Keck School of Medicine of USC researcher and her team are focusing on the lived experiences of Black menthol cigarette smokers by asking them what they think about recently imposed restrictions on retail sales of flavored tobacco products in unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County.

Here’s the twist: They’re also asking the people who sell those products their opinions as well.

Sabrina L. Smiley, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor of research preventive medicine at the Keck School’s Institute for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Research, received a grant last year for $546,447 from the California Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program to gather data on tobacco policy research questions of importance to the Black community.

Her project, a community-academic partnership with Karen Beard, EdD, of the California Black Women’s Health Project, is aimed at studying the impact of the ordinance imposed by the L.A. Board of Supervisors. Starting May 1, 2020, all retail sales of flavored tobacco products — including menthol cigarettes — were restricted in unincorporated areas of the county.

Smiley’s and Beard’s team are interviewing smokers and licensed tobacco retailers.

“It’s important to engage smokers and tobacco retailers in policy intervention research,” Smiley said. “Research shows that more tobacco retailers are in Black neighborhoods, which contributes to disproportionate menthol cigarette marketing exposure and use. Neighborhood convenience stores are the dominant channel for marketing tobacco products.

“In L.A. County specifically, our research (www.cdc.gov/pcd/issues/2021/20_0144.htm) shows a disproportionate number of storefront advertisements and price promotions for menthol cigarettes, in addition to the cheapest Newport menthol cigarette single-pack, is found in stores located in neighborhoods with the highest percentage of Black residents.” 

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The ordinance is a novel policy strategy. “Will it motivate Black menthol smokers to quit? Will smokers express stigmatization? Perceived discrimination?” Smiley asked.

During a “virtual community kick-off” event last fall to engage and sustain residents and local organizations in response to the ordinance, “some of the discussion was around Newport,” the iconic brand of smokes, Smiley said. “They were like, ‘Newport is embedded in the culture. How do you start to counter that?’ So this project is an initial attempt to understand the intended and unintended behavioral and social consequences of the ordinance.”

— Landon Hall


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