The American Lung Association Celebrates Black History Month

February is a time to recognize and celebrate Black history, culture, excellence and achievement in America. In 1976, President Gerald Ford decreed Black History Month a national observance, serving as an opportunity to reaffirm and highlight the contribution and historical importance of Black people in the United States.

This year, in recognition of Black History Month, the American Lung Association is highlighting members of our organization - Black medical experts, lung health staff experts and more - who contribute to the efforts to eliminate lung health disparities.

LungCast with Donald Alcendor, Ph.D.

The newest episode of our monthly podcast series, Lungcast,™ helps kick off Black History Month with special guest Donald Alcendor, Ph.D., M.S., of Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee. As a nationally recognized infectious disease expert, Dr. Alcendor virtually sits down with our chief medical officer and podcast host Albert Rizzo, M.D., to detail how historic and ongoing health disparities in Black, Brown and other communities of color impact the COVID-19 pandemic. The episode includes a deep dive into coronavirus mutations and monoclonal antibodies, in addition to the importance of an equitable vaccination rollout.

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Donald J. Alcendor, M.S., Ph.D 

Dr. Alcendor, Expert Advisory Panel member for the American Lung Association COVID-19 Action Initiative, is an Associate Professor, Center for AIDS Health Disparities Research, Division of Microbiology & Immunology, Physiology & Obstetrics & Gynecology, Meharry Medical College and an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Department of Pathology Microbiology and Immunology, Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He is an expert in anti-viral and immunomodulating therapies, health promotions and pandemic related social, behavioral and racial disparities.

No Patient Left Behind: Black Men and Lung Cancer (Webinar)

Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer of both men and women in the United States. However, Black men suffer disproportionally from lung cancer. Black men are more likely to get lung cancer and die from it than their white counterparts, despite lower smoking rates. Additionally, Black Americans with lung cancer are less likely to be diagnosed at an early stage, less likely to receive surgical treatment, and less likely to receive any treatment at all compared to white Americans. This webinar will feature a moderated panel discussion, with experts in the field, examining why these disparities exist and the role all Americans play in improving health equity.
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Khadijah A. Mitchell, Ph.D.

Dr. Mitchell is an Assistant Professor of Biology at Lafayette College. Her research group, known as the IT LAB, uses biological, environmental and social clues to fight cancer in our own backyard and around the country, especially in vulnerable populations. She hopes to advance the discovery of differences in tumor biology across human populations for improved prevention, diagnosis, prognosis and treatment outcomes.

David Tom Cooke, M.D., FACS

Dr. Cooke, a national volunteer medical spokesperson for the American Lung Association, is an Associate Professor at the University of California, Davis Medical Center. His areas of expertise are lung (thoracic or chest) surgery and lung cancer. He is the section head of General Thoracic Surgery, the Task Force chair and founder of the UC Davis Comprehensive Lung Cancer Screening Program and program director of the UC Davis Cardiothoracic Surgery Residency.

Fostering Trust of the COVID-19 Vaccine

Immunizations have long been a topic of hesitancy in the Black community. In a blog post and an informative video, Cedric “Jamie” Rutland, M.D. addresses the history of medical distrust among Black Americans and the importance of receiving a COVID-19 vaccine, now that it is authorized for emergency use.

Cedric “Jamie” Rutland, M.D. Dr. Rutland is triple board certified in Internal Medicine, Pulmonary and Critical Care. He completed medical school and an Internal Medicine residency at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine in Iowa City, Iowa and then moved to Kansas where he completed his Pulmonary and Critical Care Fellowships at the University of Kansas Medical Center. As a national volunteer medical spokesperson for the American Lung Association, he is passionate about community education and speaks frequently about pulmonary diseases. 

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COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit: Better For It

We have a vaccine that was developed at “warp speed”—faster than any other vaccine before it. And COVID-19 quickly became a political issue during the 2020 presidential election, with the spread of misinformation about the virus and its health implications. 

But there are many factors that lead to the quick development of several COVID-19 vaccines, including significant government funding to help research teams move quickly, leaning on previous vaccine knowledge from SARS-CoV-1 and global cooperation through the World Health Organization.  

But knowing all of this still doesn’t solve the decades of mistrust and racial bias in healthcare that proceeded today’s need for swift deployment of a COVID-19 vaccine. The American Lung Association has teamed up with The Center for Black Health and Equity to create resources and materials specifically for the Black community to address these issues.  

We can’t change the past, but we can better understand it. And we can do better to work toward a more inclusive healthcare system moving forward. We invite you to learn more about the COVID-19 vaccine and how you can help spread accurate, science-based information in your community at

Lung Health and the Black Community 

Menthol: Flavored Poison

Menthol is a chemical naturally found in peppermint and other mint plants, but it can also be made in a lab. First added to tobacco in the 1920s and 1930s, menthol reduces the harshness of cigarette smoke and the irritation from nicotine. Tobacco companies have relied on the soothing and cooling effects of menthol to make cigarettes more appealing to new smokers, youth and certain racial/ethnic groups, especially Black Americans. Today, more than 80% of Black smokers use menthol cigarettes.

Big Tobacco Marketing to the Black Community

Big Tobacco has relentlessly targeted Black Americans with their predatory marketing for decades based on extensive market research showing that they prefer menthol cigarettes. Internal documents from two of the world’s largest tobacco companies, Philip Morris International, Inc and RJ Reynolds Tobacco, exemplify Big Tobacco’s recognition of menthol’s popularity in the Black community:

Philip Morris in 1973: “Marlboro would probably have a very difficult time getting anywhere in the young Black market. The odds against it there are heavy. Young Blacks have found their thing, and it's menthol in general and Kool in particular.”1

RJ Reynolds in 1984: “Since younger adult Blacks overwhelmingly prefer menthol cigarettes, continued emphasis on Salem within the Black market is recommended. Salem is already positioned against younger adults. With emphasis on the younger adult Black market, Salem may be able to provide an alternative to Newport and capitalize on Kool’s decline.”2

The tobacco industry has been marketing directly to the Black community with a focus on menthol cigarettes since the 1960s. A 1998 U.S. Surgeon General’s report on Tobacco Use Among U.S. Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups highlights how Big Tobacco’s marketing was purposefully contrary to the historical negative depictions of Black Americans in the media. Tobacco companies specifically showed Black people in their ads as joyful, attractive, poised and radiant.3

According to former Essence magazine executive editor, Linda Villarosa, “[Black people] have grown almost numb to negative images of ourselves in the media—Black teen girls surrounded by screaming babies or men in handcuffs. Except in cigarette or liquor advertisements. In these we are beautiful, confident, well-dressed, happy, wealthy, in love.”4

Tobacco products continue to be one of the most heavily marketed consumer products in the U.S. In 2018, the latest year for which information is available, the five largest cigarette manufacturers spent a total of $8.4 billion—or more than $23 million dollars a day—to promote and advertise their products.5 The five largest smokeless tobacco manufacturers spent $658.5 million on advertising and promotion in 2018.6

Only three states are funding tobacco control programs at close to the levels currently recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), meaning that tobacco company marketing efforts are largely occurring without effective, well-funded state tobacco control programs to respond. In fact, tobacco companies spend more on advertising and promotion in one day than many states spend in a year. The American Lung Association advocates for state tobacco prevention and cessation programs to be funded at levels recommended by the CDC.

Quit Tobacco Use for Good

Quitting isn't easy but more than 50 million ex-smokers in the United States are proof that it's possible. Despite what e-cigarette companies want you to believe, switching to vaping (e-cigarettes) is not quitting smoking. E-cigarettes are tobacco products, they contain nicotine, and FDA has not approved any e-cigarette as a quit smoking device. Enrolling in a tobacco counseling program, such as American Lung Association’s Freedom From Smoking®, can increase your chances of success by up to 60% when used in combination with FDA-approved medication. 

The American Lung Association looks to serve those who face a disproportionate burden of tobacco use and tobacco-related illness through the American Lung Association's advocacy and health education programs, a proven-effective smoking cessation program which has helped more than one million people successfully quit tobacco use. To ensure access to these services for those unable but wanting to quit during these challenging times of social distancing, the American Lung Association is offering a free one-year membership to our premiere cessation program Freedom From Smoking through our online option, Freedom From Smoking Plus ($99.95 value). Freedom From Smoking Plus is self-paced, accessible through any digital device including smartphones, tablets, laptops or computer and designed to provide one full year of continuous support in quitting and maintaining a tobacco-free lifestyle. 

In addition to a comprehensive quit program, we encourage quitters to join our Freedom From Smoking Inspire Online Discussion and Support Community to stay connected with others along their quit journey, give and receive peer-to-peer support every step along the way, all staying connected and engaged, while following social distancing guidelines. 

If you or someone you know is interested in quitting and would like to take advantage of the Lung Association’s support, visit, register today and begin the journey to freedom.  For more information about quitting visit the American Lung Association website at: or call us at 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872).

Environmental Justice

Clean air is essential to health. Yet nearly half of Americans are still breathing unhealthy air, and the burden is not evenly shared. Disadvantaged, under-resourced and politically disenfranchised communities are disproportionately impacted by air pollution. Those facing the greatest burden are communities of color, low-income communities as well as those living in rural and urban settings. 

Recent studies have looked at the mortality in the Medicaid population and found that those who live in predominately Black communities suffered greater risk of premature death from particle pollution than those who live in communities that are predominately white. Other researchers have found greater risk for Black Americans from hazardous air pollutants, including those pollutants that also come from traffic sources.7 Due to decades of residential segregation, Black Americans tend to live where there is greater exposure to air pollution.

Learn more about the air you breathe from the American Lung Association’s “State of the Air” report which analyzes data from official air quality monitors in your state.  

Each Breath Blogs: 

Lung Cancer Biomarker Testing among Black Patients

Lung cancer treatment has made astounding progress in the past 10 years. With the discovery of numerous targeted therapies, some lung cancer patients may be eligible to take a pill that “targets” their specific type of lung cancer. Testing to see if a patient is eligible for a targeted therapy is called biomarker testing and involves looking at changes or mutations in a person’s genes. Biomarker testing can also provide information about whether a patient will be eligible for immunotherapy by looking at levels of certain proteins in the cells.  During Lung Cancer Awareness Month, we explored biomarker testing trends in the Black community in a two-part blog series:

Champions Unite: Lung Association Board Member, Tony Gwynn, Jr. Speaks on Racial Health Disparities and Social Injustice

Former MLB player and San Diego Local Leadership Board member, Tony Gwynn, Jr shares reflections on racial injustice and COVID-19: “As coronavirus spreads deeper across America, the pandemic has shined a spotlight on the health disparities within our most underserved populations. Studies from across the nation show the coronavirus is disproportionately infecting and killing people in Black and Latino communities.  Racial inequities in the pandemic is just one symptom of the larger issue at hand.” Read more here 

  1. The Roper Organization, Inc., A Study of Smoking Habits Among Young Smokers, Philip Morris, July 1974, Bates No. 2024921279/1313

  2. RJR, “Consumer Research Report,” May 9, 1984, Bates No. 501254820-4850,

  3. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Tobacco Use Among U.S. Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups—African Americans, American Indians and Alaska Natives, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, Georgia: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 1998.

  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Tobacco Use Among U.S. Racial/Ethnic Minority Groups—African Americans, American Indians and Alaska Natives, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, and Hispanics: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta, Georgia: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 1998.

  5. Federal Trade Commission. Cigarette Report for 2018. Issued December 2019.

  6. Federal Trade Commission. Smokeless Tobacco Report for 2018. Issued December 2019.

  7. Apelberg BJ, Buckley TJ, White RH. Socioeconomic and racial disparities in cancer risk from air toxics in Maryland. Environ Health Perspect. 2005: 113: 693-699.

Page last updated: July 21, 2021

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