Bad Taste

We owe it to our kids.

Clove cigarettes have long been a prop of self-styled bohemians, favored by neo-hippies, artists, drama students, and goths. By transforming the sweet, fragrant Indonesian smokes into contraband, the recently introduced Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act would make them even cooler.

The bill—sponsored by two bipartisan pairs, Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) and Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) in the Senate and Tom Davis (R-Va.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) in the House—would give the Food and Drug Administration broad authority to regulate tobacco products. But the authors clearly thought the matter of cigarette flavorings was too important to be left to the FDA's discretion.

Section 907(a)(1) of the bill states that "a cigarette or any of its component parts...shall not contain, as a constituent (including a smoke constituent) or additive, an artificial or natural flavor (other than tobacco or menthol) or an herb or spice, including strawberry, grape, orange, clove, cinnamon, pineapple, vanilla, coconut, licorice, cocoa, chocolate, cherry, or coffee, that is a characterizing flavor of the tobacco product or tobacco smoke."

A clue to the motivation behind this seemingly strange requirement can be gleaned from the name of the bill, which in itself is rather puzzling. What do DeWine, Kennedy, Davis, and Waxman mean by "family smoking prevention"? Presumably they want to avoid the sort of scenario depicted in Thoughts and Stories on Tobacco for American Lads, an 1852 anti-smoking polemic in which an illustration shows a man, his wife, and their four small children, including an infant, puffing away on cigars.

The point of the word family is to assure you that DeWine et al. have the best of intentions. As Davis explains, "This bill will help keep our children away from tobacco products and protect them from being targeted by the tobacco industry."

Since added flavors make cigarettes more appealing to "our children," they cannot be permitted. It's just a happy coincidence that Philip Morris, one of the bill's main backers, does not manufacture cigarettes with any of the prohibited flavors—although it does make menthol cigarettes, which are specifically exempted from the ban.

By contrast, Brown & Williamson, which opposes FDA regulation, last March started selling four flavored varieties of its Kool brand: Caribbean Chill, Midnight Berry, Mocha Taboo, and Mintrigue. R.J. Reynolds, which also has resisted Philip Morris' strategy of cozying up with federal bureaucrats, has been selling Camel "Exotic Blends" such as Crema, Dark Mint, Izmir Stinger, and Twist since 1999.

Both companies insist their specially flavored varieties (which cost substantially more than the regular versions) are aimed at adult smokers. Tellingly, anti-smoking activists say that doesn't matter, because teenagers aspire to be like the young adults the cigarette makers are targeting.

By this standard, any age-restricted product that appeals to minors is suspect, even if it has a thriving market among adults. The same logic underlies criticism of "alcopops," sweet malt beverages such as Bacardi Silver and Mike's Hard Lemonade.

It's certainly true that many teenagers will be attracted to a drink that gives them a buzz but doesn't taste like alcohol. But so are many adults, as the continuing popularity of liqueurs and mixed drinks testifies.

If Jack Daniel's Original Hard Cola is to be faulted for its combination of sweetness and intoxication, why isn't Bailey's Irish Cream or a Long Island iced tea equally objectionable? If we really want to discourage kids from drinking, the only legal alcoholic beverages should be grappa and slivovitz.

And what about the other drug pushers who lure our children with sweet tastes and hook them on a habit that may last a lifetime? A few years ago an investigative reporter researching a piece for The Nation had the guts to put Starbucks on the spot about its practice of serving hefty doses of caffeine in frothy, dessert-like concoctions available in a variety of tempting flavors. "We don't market to teenagers," a corporate flack insisted, right before admitting that "anyone is welcome in our stores."

If you're not alarmed by this situation because you think coffee is no big deal, you must not be aware of the fact that the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse has identified caffeine as a gateway drug. Last year it reported that "girls and young women who drink coffee are significantly likelier than girls and young women who do not to be smokers...and drink alcohol."

Black, no sugar should be the law of the land.

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