Cigarette Flavoratism

Is the tobacco bill racist?

For years I've argued that a bill authorizing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate tobacco products is bad for consumers. I've said the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which Congress is once again considering, would stifle competition, raise prices, reduce variety, block the flow of potentially lifesaving information, and impede the introduction and promotion of safer tobacco products.

Such arguments have attracted remarkably little attention, given that consumer protection is the main rationale for FDA regulation. Now I realize my mistake: I should have said the bill was racist.

In my defense, I did not realize until recently that the bill was racist. Then again, neither did the people making that argument.

Take Joseph Califano, who has been a vociferous opponent of smoking since he served as Jimmy Carter's secretary of health, education and welfare. Despite his longstanding interest in the issue, it seems Califano never got around to reading the tobacco bill, which was first introduced in 2004, or at least did not notice a provision he now deems outrageously discriminatory.

Califano told The New York Times his eyes were opened by Louis Sullivan, secretary of health and human services under George H.W. Bush, who called him to complain that the bill bans all cigarette flavors except menthol. It's not clear why Sullivan only recently got riled up about this provision, which anti-smoking activists have been murmuring about for years.

It may have had something to do with a May 13 New York Times story headlined "Cigarette Bill Treats Menthol With Leniency," which reported that "some public health experts are questioning why menthol, the most widely used cigarette flavoring and the most popular cigarette choice of African-American smokers, is receiving special protection as Congress tries to regulate tobacco for the first time." The front-page article quoted William S. Robinson, head of the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network, who explained that his organization and other anti-smoking groups had gone along with the menthol exemption because it was necessary to placate Philip Morris, the only major cigarette maker supporting the bill.

Philip Morris sells a lot of menthol cigarettes, but the flavors forbidden by the bill are offered only by its competitors. The bill's flavoritism is of a piece with its general tendency to help the industry leader maintain its market dominance.

But Robinson was willing to live with the Philip Morris-favoring menthol compromise until two weeks after the Times story ran, when he announced that his group had withdrawn its support for the bill because "our constituents across the country are just livid." In a June 5 op-ed piece published by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Califano, Sullivan and Robinson explained the source of that anger.

"This loophole especially undermines the health of African-Americans," they said, since 75 percent of black smokers prefer menthol brands, compared to 32 percent of white smokers. "The bill blatantly discriminates against African-Americans."

In a June 4 letter that was also signed by five other former health secretaries and one former surgeon general, Califano et al. urged Congress to ban menthol cigarettes. Since the rationale for banning flavored cigarettes is that kids like them, the letter said, the menthol exception "sends a message that African American youngsters are valued less than white youngsters."

There are other ways to look at it. Given that white menthol smokers outnumber black menthol smokers by three to one, maybe this isn't such a black thing after all. Alternatively, since the bill allows blacks to smoke the cigarettes they prefer, a freedom it does not allow whites who like clove cigarettes or Camel Cremas, you could argue that it discriminates in favor of blacks.

People who want to ban flavored cigarettes, of course, believe that letting smokers have what they want is a hostile act. But if so, the fact that the bill allows tobacco companies to continue selling the non-mentholated cigarettes overwhelmingly preferred by whites suggests that it blatantly discriminates against European Americans.

© Copyright 2008 by Creators Syndicate Inc.

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  • Plant Immigration Rights Suppo||

    If the government really wanted to hurt black people they would ban products that people want to buy and are easy to sell with little overhead. This way poor black people would be more likely to get into the business of selling that product. Then they could jail poor blacks at disproportionate rates.

  • ||

    This reminds me of Tracy Morgan's line: "Whites have contributed three things to black culture: malt liquor, Kool cigarettes*, and the McRib sandwich."

    *There is a fascinating (to me, at least) historical irony here: Back in the day--way, way back in the day, the 1920s, to be precise--my grandmother and her fellow feminists (respectable League of Women Voters types, and totally not flappers) all smoked cigarettes, because women weren't supposed to. And they smoked Kool, because it was a union brand. Solidarity, Sisters!

  • LarryA||

    "This loophole especially undermines the health of African-Americans," they said, since 75 percent of black smokers prefer menthol brands, compared to 32 percent of white smokers. "The bill blatantly discriminates against African-Americans."

    The bill discriminates against A-As because it allows them to smoke what they want? My head hurts.

    But Robinson was willing to live with the Philip Morris-favoring menthol compromise until two weeks after the Times story ran, when he announced that his group had withdrawn its support for the bill because "our constituents across the country are just livid."

    Ah ha! "Constituents" does not equal "smokers."

  • ||

    I have a feeling the Board of Education is behind this.

  • x,y||

    Sullum might care to reevaluate his definition of racist. A policy is not racist solely because it has a disparate effect on a certain race of people. Same goes for the drug war. There are hundreds of legitimate reasons to criticize this policy and the drug war. Chants of racism are not one of them.

  • semm||

    x,y I sincerely hope you made that comment without reading the article. Because if you did, well, I'd say your reading comprehension unit is due in for an overhaul.

  • ||

    There's a game theory lesson in here somewhere. Who says the Merchants of Death don't do us any good?

    Oh, and does anyone know if Reason favorite son Barrack Obama smokes menthols?

  • ||

    "Whites have contributed three things to black culture: malt liquor, Kool cigarettes*, and the McRib sandwich."

    You can take my McRib sandwich, from my greasy dead hands.

  • tarran||

    Same goes for the drug war. There are hundreds of legitimate reasons to criticize this policy and the drug war. Chants of racism are not one of them.



    Ah I see, so when marijuana was originally outlawed because it made "a colored man think that he's just as good as a white man" it wasn't a racist policy.

    got it.

  • ||

    And the sentencing disparities between powder and crack cocaine are completely devoid of racism as well.

    Glad I finally got set straight on all this.

  • drawnasunder||

    "stifle competition, raise prices, reduce variety"

    Perfect cartel conditions. I bet the cigarette manufacturer are strongly "objecting" to these proposals.

  • guy in the back row||

    Joe Califano is a complete tool

  • x,y||

    I didn't RTFA, just the intro. But it's an argument I've heard before -- usually regarding the drug war -- and one I believe Sullum has made. If I'm wrong about Sullum's position, fine, but the larger point stands.

  • Stephen the Goldberger||

    This is just like how the NASA and the CIA invented AIDS and crack to kill young black men.

  • classwarrior||

    I'm all for any measure that would "stifle competition, raise prices, reduce variety" of a product that harms people (and not just the smoker) when used exactly as intended.

  • drawnasunder||

    This kind of regulation is exactly what the tobacco companies like because it gets the government to enforce nearly ideal cartel policies, which guarantees their position and profits in the marketplace.

  • ||

    Smoking is bad for you? Does anybody have a link to a reputable source that supports that assertation?

  • ||

    There are hundreds of legitimate reasons to criticize this policy and the drug war. Chants of racism are not one of them.

    WTF?

    "There are 100,000 total marijuana smokers in the US, and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers. Their Satanic music, jazz, and swing, result from marijuana use. This marijuana causes white women to seek sexual relations with Negroes, entertainers, and any others."

    "...the primary reason to outlaw marijuana is its effect on the degenerate races."

    "Marijuana is an addictive drug which produces in its users insanity, criminality, and death."

    "Reefer makes darkies think they're as good as white men."



    Thanks. I always appreciate the opportunity to quote Harry J. Anslinger, the first Commissioner of the Treasury Department's Federal Bureau of Narcotics.

  • ||

    Sullum might care to reevaluate his definition of racist. A policy is not racist solely because it has a disparate effect on a certain race of people.

    That's funny, disparate impact is often regarded as a sufficient condition for a finding of racial discrimination by businesses.

  • ||

    Full disclosure, I'm a tobacco smoker. I'm dow to 6-8 ciggies a day now. I effin' like flavored cigarettes. They're a nice change of pace.

  • Kolohe||

    and most are Negroes, Hispanics, Filipinos, and entertainers.

    And this is why Subic Bay was teh awesome. Too bad I am too young to have been there before it closed.

  • ||

    And this is why Subic Bay was teh awesome. Too bad I am too young to have been there before it closed.

    I first visited Olongapo (and Subic City) in '75. This was before piss testing by the Navy. I have many stories, but since this is a family blog, often frequenten by ladies and minors, I'll not relate them here. Suffice to say, it was "teh awesome".

  • Bingo||

    Oh goody. More legislation for the children.

  • KT||

    Man, everything is racist these days. Coffee, marzipan, studying optometry, that little plastic thing in the middle of a pizza box, basket weaving, all racist. And now this!

  • Rhywun||

    More legislation for the children.



    No, this one is for families. Didn't you read the name of the bill?

  • Rhywun||

    Before I started smoking, there was absolutely *nothing* you could add to it that would have made we want to try it. I suspect the same is true of the vast majority of non-smokers. So how do they get away with this silliness where they pretend it's about removing flavors that "attractive" to kids? Nobody really believes that, do they?

  • x,y||

    J sub D -

    That was one of the original reasons put forth to start the drug war. But there is no reason to think that continues to motivate anyone.

    R C Dean -

    I'm aware of the disparate impact doctrine. It's unmitigated BS.

  • ||

    But there is no reason to think that continues to motivate anyone.

    lol.

  • ||

    They'll get my shisha when they pry my cold dead emphysemic fingers from around the hookah.

    I'm still waiting with bated breath for a TV news reporter to confuse "shisha" with "hashish."

    Hilarity will ensue.

  • ||

    J sub D -

    That was one of the original reasons put forth to start the drug war. But there is no reason to think that continues to motivate anyone.


    But I'm all better now. Right?

    R C Dean -

    I'm aware of the disparate impact doctrine. It's unmitigated BS.


    BS how? Untrue? Blacks and Hispanics aren't more likely to be arrested for drug offenses? Blacks and hispanics who are arrested aren't more likely to be sentenced to jail than whites who are arrested? Cops aren't more likely to search a car for drugs if the driver's black?

    How is calling this racist "bullshit"?
    Oh yeah, it isn't.

  • ||

    He's referring to the legal doctrine of disparate impact, which really is unmitigated bullshit:

    A theory of liability that prohibits an employer from using a facially neutral employment practice that has an unjustified adverse impact on members of a protected class. A facially neutral employment practice is one that does not appear to be discriminatory on its face; rather it is one that is discriminatory in its application or effect.

  • Other Matt||

    That was one of the original reasons put forth to start the drug war. But there is no reason to think that continues to motivate anyone.

    But I'm all better now. Right?


    Essentially the same problem I have with "common sense gun control"

  • x,y||

    There are probably a number of officers who arrest blacks, hispanics and other minorities at a higher rate than whites solely because of their skin color. But I doubt it's more than a handful in each jurisdiction. I'd argue that the reason the overwhelming percentage of those arrested are minorities is because of BS pat and search laws and location, location, location. Most of the (certainly unlibertarian) pat and searches occur in inner cities, where the population is overwhelmingly minority. That's much more difficult to do in the burbs. Also, once arrested, whites are more likely to hire (expensive) private counsel, which results in less convictions. This is disturbing on several levels, but it's not racist.

  • Rhywun||

    Most of the (certainly unlibertarian) pat and searches occur in inner cities, where the population is overwhelmingly minority.



    If by "inner city" you mean the "black neighborhoods", yes. They're not doing pat-downs in the immediately adjacent "white neighborhoods".

  • Willow||

    How does my favorite brand fit in with this?

  • ||

    One pack of broccoli cigarettes please

    If Congress really wants to regulate cigarette flavors then they should start forcing the tobacco companies to make vegetable infused ones (Cigarette Bill Treats Menthol With Leniency, May 13). Since people are so "affected" by these flavored cigarettes maybe we can start promoting positive eating habits as well. At least then you could more correctly argue putting the regulation of tobacco products in the hands of the FDA.

    Instead Congress would rather burden an already stressed and highly criticized agency. FDA Commissioner Andrew Von Eschenbach admitted last month in North Carolina that the agency "does not have the infrastructure in place" or the expertise to fill the role of regulating tobacco. The effects of creating such infrastructure will drain more money and time from the true fundamental role of the FDA.

  • ||

    I would like to know more from Mr. Robinson. His org NAATPN was created by one funder the Anti smoking group the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The non-profit arm of Johnson & Johnson Pharma makers of nicorette, nicoderm ,and nicoderm CQ. Last I seen these have all been adding flavorings. Does Mr. Robinson approve of menthol in these products? Should be obvious based on who really pays his salary.

  • PicassoIII||

    BoscoH
    Oh, and does anyone know if Reason favorite son Barrack Obama smokes menthols?


    Proof positive that Barrack isn't really black.
    He smokes Marlboro reds.

  • Marshall||

    Viruses linked to over 50% of lung cancer.

    In another paper, Israeli researchers suggest that measles virus may also be a factor in some lung cancers. Their study included 65 patients with non-small-cell lung cancer, of whom more than half had evidence of measles virus in tissue samples taken from their cancer.

    "Measles virus is a ubiquitous human virus that may be involved in the pathogenesis of lung cancer," says lead author Prof. Samuel Ariad from Soroka Medical Center in Beer Sheva, Israel. "Most likely, it acts in modifying the effect of other carcinogens and not as a causative factor by itself."
    http://veritasvincitprolibertate.wordpress.com/2008/06/21/hpv-virus-causes-lung-cancer/

  • قبلة الوداع||

    thanks

  • منتديات الروله||

    thnx

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