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This year, Women’s History Month comes at a pivotal time when women’s voices and stories are being heard and lifted up in a way they never have before. This opportunity should be celebrated and gives society an opportunity to see history in new ways – including stories about things that impact women’s health.

Many may be surprised to know that one of the most critical health issues facing women today is menthol cigarettes. They are a key reason why lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths for women in the U.S. In fact, almost twice as many women die from lung cancer than breast cancer, even though breast cancer is more prevalent.

Legendary African American singers, Mary Wells and Sarah Vaughan, had their voices silenced too early and suffered health related issues caused by smoking cigarettes. Wells developed cancer of the larynx due to smoking. She smoked two packs of cigarettes a day, lost all of her finances to expensive cancer treatments, and suffered from the disease until she died of pneumonia at age 49.

Also a longtime smoker, Vaughan developed lung cancer and carcinoma of the joints in one hand. Her amazing contralto voice became huskier after years of smoking. She died at age 66.

It is important to understand the history of menthol cigarettes. They were actually created by tobacco companies specifically for women. For decades the tobacco industry intentionally advertised and marketed them to women by showing images of group fun, freedom, and glamour in their marketing.

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