Making The World A Better Place, One Policy At A Time.
Manager, activist, researcher, and writer, Carol McGruder is experienced in the fields of tobacco control, transnational tobacco issues, public policy, social marketing, media advocacy, parent training, health education, and community capacity building. Ms. McGruder is a seasoned veteran of California’s tobacco control experience and has served as an advisor in many capacities, most recently as a founding member and Co-Chairperson of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council.
Q: What motivated you to get involved with tobacco control policy work?
I am most proud of my work within African American organizations to support tobacco control policies; this summer, I worked with the NAACP to adopt a policy to support local work prohibiting menthol cigarettes. I was very happy to work in Chicago on the first local legislation to regulate where menthol and other flavored tobacco products can be sold. I am also proud to have supported the San Francisco Employee’s Retirement System in adopting policy to divest stocks with domestic companies involved in manufacturing tobacco products.
Q: What policies that you've worked on are you most proud of?
I have been doing this work for a long time, but when I initially got involved, I didn’t know anything about tobacco control. Once I started learning about the hidden toll of tobacco on our community, it became very personal to me. I had also lost my favorite Aunt to emphysema, she was only 58 years old. I have worked in every different aspect of tobacco control, and I see policy, along with capacity building, as the biggest bang for your buck.
Q: What key messengers resonated with policymakers?
Community members are the strongest messengers. I would like to see more young Black men and women involved in this work because they are really being targeted by the tobacco industry. They have been the subject of stop and frisk policies that have harmed our community, and some fear the “unintended consequences” of menthol cigarette restrictions will harm us as well, without understanding the intended consequences of predatory menthol cigarette marketing to our community which results in 45,000 Black deaths each year from tobacco-related diseases. We need to cultivate, educate, and build the capacity of these young folks for our movement.
Q: What testimonies or stories have been particularly impactful for policymakers?
A powerful story is Marie Evans, a young African American girl out of Boston who was given free samples of menthol flavored cigarettes at age 9 and died at age 54 from lung cancer caused by smoking. When given the chance to regulate flavored cigarettes, the FDA took menthol flavoring out of the equation, using African Americans as the bargaining chip for this public policy, considering that the majority of Black smokers smoke menthol cigarettes. Marie Evans and poor urban youth like her were treated as throwaways, betrayed by their own Black leaders and policymakers who caved to tobacco industry pressure and compromised the health of our community.
Q: What is your advice to someone interested in adopting a tobacco control policy?
Do your research and know what you’re talking about. If you don’t know, don’t be afraid to say you don’t know – it’s better than making something up. Prioritize the voices of young people – policymakers know that they are supposed to be working to support our youth, so involving young people changes the dynamic. Always speak from your heart – start with things that really matter to you personally. There are facts and then there are personal stories. We know factually that 45,000 Black Americans die every year from tobacco-related diseases. But when you show a picture of Marie Evans from Boston who was targeted at age 9 by the tobacco industry and died early from smoking-related cancer, that has a different impact. You want to touch hearts and minds.