Half a century ago, faced with broadcast advertising bans stemming from overwhelming evidence of the harms of smoking, the tobacco industry used menthol cigarettes to secure new markets among Black Americans in urban areas.
Today, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is weighing whether to ban menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes and ban all characterizing flavors other than tobacco in cigars.
Keith Wailoo, the Henry Putnam University Professor of History and Public Affairs, saw the inescapable billboards for Kool and other “light” smokes in the New York City neighborhoods where he grew up in the 1970s. When he moved to suburban New Jersey, the billboards were missing. That stark disparity sparked an interest that ultimately led this researcher of the history and health policy to write his latest book.
In Pushing Cool: Big Tobacco, Racial Marketing and the Untold Story of the Menthol Cigarette, Wailoo documents the history of menthol cigarettes and racial marketing, setting the context for the impending FDA decision.
Wailoo recently spoke about his book, published by the University of Chicago Press in November, in a video interview with Danielle Capparella of the Office of Communications. This Q&A has been condensed from the video, which was filmed and edited by Megan Osborne.