Arkansas will recognize No Menthol Sunday, May 17, by increasing awareness about the relationship between smoking and COVID-19, especially in communities of color, according to a news release from the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Arkansas.


Downtown Little Rock bridges will be lit in green to recognize May 17 as national No Menthol Sunday and to shed light on the plight of COVID-19 among vulnerable populations.


Numerous churches, including several in the Pine Bluff area, are also participating, such as New Town Missionary Baptist Church, as well as the Minority Initiative Sub-Recipient Grant Office (MISRGO), which conducts a tobacco prevention program at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.


“Faith leaders, elected officials and public health advocates will become more vocal about the perils of smoking and its relationship to COVID-19 within communities of color, especially among African Americans. This year, the interfaith observance day pivots to call attention to COVID-19 in communities of color,” according to the release.


No Menthol Sunday is a day to educate churchgoers about traditional tobacco use among African Americans.


“Many public health advocates have expressed concern for the apparent disregard of underlying health conditions, such as hypertension and diabetes as consideration for testing among high risk groups,” said Katherine Donald, executive director of the Coalition for a Tobacco Free Arkansas. “Disportionately, many African-Americans live with at least one comorbidities that put them at higher risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19, especially if they smoke or vape.”


If smokers get sick from COVID-19, then it may take longer for them to heal because smoking slows down the healing process, Donald said.


“No matter where you live or who you are, everyone, of all races, ethnicities, age groups, and genders can become infected with the coronavirus,” said Pebbles Fagan, Ph.D, director of the Center for the Study of Tobacco at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS.)


“But, some groups are at higher risk for getting the coronavirus. Although, more whites in Arkansas have been infected by the coronavirus and have died, African Americans are disproportionately impacted by the infection and death rates. About one third of the new infections and deaths are among African Americans,” Fagan said.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly 90 percent of African Americans adults, who smoke choose a menthol product.


“Studies show that while African Americans try more often than whites to stop smoking, they are less successful,” Donald said. “Some say this discrepancy is partly due to the use of menthol which makes tobacco products harder to quit. Additionally, menthol flavor masks the harshness of smoking, making it easier for kids to smoke. Studies show most kids who start smoking try menthols first.”


On Sunday, the coalition will sponsor the lighting of three bridges in downtown Little Rock, crossing the Arkansas River. The bridge at the foot of the Clinton Presidential Center and two others will be lit in “mint” green on Saturday night. Residents are encouraged to come out and view the lights, while practicing social distancing and wearing face coverings. They are urged to take a picture, post it on Facebook with the hashtag “ARNoMentholSunday2020”, and also send the photo to www.arfreshair.com.


For help to quit smoking, individuals can call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for free resources about quitting and coaching, or call Be Well Arkansas at 833- 283-WELL.