By SixFootah The Poet
I am a mother and a daughter, and I will not be silent because my pain can be someone else’s voice. The makers of menthol cigarettes have taken my heart, and ripped it out, with no remorse. They are the creators of a cancer-causing, lung-collapsing, aging-in-a-box of a disease that is a cancer in a stick that caused my mother to get hooked. It’s funny how they say cancer doesn’t kill, all so they can make a dollar bill. But they created her lover, and since she got in bed with it, her life has been over.
My mother was raised by loving parents in an affluent home. I need you to understand that my mother was not a smoker. But when she began working at a See’s Candy store in one of Oakland’s wealthiest neighborhoods, she was the first African American manager ever to work there and during their 15-minute breaks, some of the Caucasian women would smoke. One of them handed her one and it was history, she was addicted. My mother said that if she had known all about the side effects of smoking and the damage that it can cause she would have never started smoking. She wishes she would have known ahead of time.
My mother raised us in Oakland. While I was growing up, she tried to quit smoking several times, but she was never successful. Looking back, we remember she spent so much time smoking that we would have to wait to be around her or figure out another way to breathe. She would go through two packs a day and put the cigarettes before a bill. But little did we know that the menthol in cigarettes makes them easier to start, harder to quit and more damaging.
Thanks to menthol cigarettes, I have been losing my mother a little at a time for years. My mother became sick on December 26, 2013, spending her life in and out of hospitals and care facilities due to the damage menthol cigarettes had done to her. Two strokes and two heart attacks, I knew my mother and our lives would never be the same. I spent many nights beside her hospital bed where I cried, all because the tobacco industry lied.
It’s funny that they say tobacco doesn’t kill and it is our freewill, but in my neighborhood I seem to find more marketing toward my kind where it seems like there are 10 times more signs. The Tobacco Industry has been advertising menthol cigarettes to our community for decades stacking the deck against us, making sure the menthol playing field isn’t level or fair.
I wish my story was unique, but I know it’s not. In California, more than half of African American smokers use menthol cigarettes, but less than one in five Caucasian smokers use them. That’s not an accident. The Tobacco Industry has altered people’s way of thinking, that they need menthol cigarettes as a coping mechanism for life. And it’s why our community bears the greatest mortality due to tobacco.
But I won’t let her story, my story, our story, stay quiet.
On November 2, 2019, my family and I lost our beloved mother. She passed away after suffering serious and debilitating health issues from smoking menthol cigarettes for most of her life. I’ve lost time with my mother, space with my mother, and memories with my mother.
But my mother was a fighter, and because of her, so am I. With my mother’s blessing, over the past few years I began to educate and speak up for my people. Through my poetry, that I perform throughout my community, including at the Black Repertory Theater in Berkeley, I want people to know what menthol cigarettes have taken from me — my biggest supporter, holidays, birthdays, too many things for me to even count. All gone.
But the one thing they can’t take is my voice, and I will continue to use it until no more of our families bear this loss. To hear more about our story, please visit www.wearenotprofit.org.