Mentholated Racism

The Congressional Black Caucus has joined criticism of the bill that would let the Food and Drug Administration regulate tobacco products, complaining about the omission of menthol, disproportionately favored by black smokers, from its list of prohibited cigarette flavors. As I noted in a column last month, this provision has been in the bill since 2004, but black leaders did not start to complain that failing to ban menthol cigarettes was racially discriminatory until after a May 13 New York Times story headlined "Cigarette Bill Treats Menthol With Leniency." The front-page article 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." (Here's why: Because Philip Morris, the only major cigarette manufacturer supporting the bill, does not want to give up the money it makes from Marlboro Menthol, the No. 2 brand in this category.) Two weeks after the Times story ran, the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network withdrew its support for the tobacco bill, and now the Congressional Black Caucus, responding to Johnny-come-lately criticism from former Secetary of Health and Human Services Louis Sullivan, has taken up the cause as well.

So has John Banzhaf of Action on Smoking and Health, who is demanding removal of the "racist and lethal" menthol loophole. Meanwhile, the anti-smoking groups that back the bill, including the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Heart Association, and the American Lung Association, warn that "the impact of modifying or prohibiting such a large portion of the current cigarette market is unclear," saying menthol smokers might turn to the black market. (Oddly, that concern did not stop the bill's backers from supporting a provision that authorizes the FDA to order a reduction in nicotine levels.) Although I can't say I agree that the bill discriminates against blacks by letting them smoke the cigarettes they prefer, I nevertheless hope that charge sinks the legislation, which is bad for several other reasons.

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  • TallDave||

    You know if they put special restrictions on menthols, they'd cry racism at that too.

    You can't win with the race-baiters. Everything is an excuse to make a scene.

  • TallDave||

    (Oddly, that concern did not stop the bill's backers from supporting a provision that authorizes the FDA to order a reduction in nicotine levels.)

    Wow, that is just evil. That means tobacco smokers will have to inhale more cancer-causing crap to get the same high.

    Who says the death penalty isn't popular anymore?

  • ||

    I smoke menthol cigarettes. It's stupid (not the menthol, the inhaling of incompletely combusted organic material). I was never going to smoke at all until I found out at age sixteen that mentholated cigarettes were available. Then I could no longer resist the siren song of nicotine laced coffin nails.

    Please congress, can you micro-manage us citizen's serf's lives some more? We are too damn stupid to do it ourselves.

  • Naga Sadow||

    So is this going to turn into another cigarette maker beat down?

  • toxicated patriot||

    Menthols are outlawed because all menth are created equal.

  • ||

    If anything nicotine levels should be increased. Light and Ultra-Light cigarettes are the worst, for the reason TallDave gave above.

  • ||

    So black politicians are outraged because their black constituents are being "discriminated" against because not enough of their freedoms are being taken compared to other groups?

    * checks to see if it is April 1st *

    Sounds like an Onion article to me.

  • Alexander Litvinenko ||

    I think this could be great ad campaign, with me as spokesman:

    "Less Nicotine, More Polonium!"

    What you think, comrades?

  • ||

    Oh! Can I play?

    These are the times that try menth souls.

  • ||

    Funny, it seems that they are arguing that black people are less capable of exercising the personal choice to not smoke than members of other artificially defined social groups. That sounds pretty damn racist to me.

    Normally, I'd step up and defend Phillip Morris but
    A. They are wrong in this case.
    B. I'm still nursing a grudge against Phillip Morris after they had me fired for insisting I get paid for actual time worked.

  • ||

    So black politicians are outraged because their black constituents have more freedom (on this one narrow topic) than other groups?

    * checks to see if it is April 1st *

    Did someone sneak an Onion article onto Reason?

  • ||

    Sorry about the double post. Computer is acting up on me.

  • Rimfax||

    Nicotine is unhealthy! [Citation needed]

  • ||

    So does menthol make cigarettes worse for you? I don't smoke at all, so I haven't paid attention to the cigarette argument much.

  • .||

    Black guys in my high school smoked menthols all the time. It was no big deal.

  • Paul||

    saying menthol smokers might turn to the black market.



    I thought that menthol smokers were the black market!

    I'm here all week.

  • ||

    I thought that menthol smokers were the black market!



    That was fucking hilarious. Here I was trying to figure out why Marlboro Menthols would have Phillip Morris concerned when all I see my African-American neighbors smoking are Kools. Mmmm, Kool Milds. Wonderful cigarette.

  • ||

    Mmmm, Kool Milds. Wonderful cigarette.

    Yep, I was a Kool smoker back in the day. Switched between them and Marlboros.

  • ||

    Apparently, Marlboro Menthols are the preferred brand of white trash litterbugs too. Is there something about the box that makes it impossible for my daughter and her loser friends to put it in a trash can? Phillip Morris should know its market, but it might be whiter than they think.

  • Paul||

    preferred brand of white trash litterbugs too. Is there something about the box that makes it impossible for my daughter and her loser friends to put it in a trash can?

    So that makes your daughter... never mind.

  • Naga Sadow||

    James Ard,

    Advertisers know their market. Phillip Morris doesn't spend billions on advertising without doing a little research. Also, did you just call your own daughter "white trash"? If this were Canada I would file a motion with their Human Rights Commission!

  • ||

    So black politicians are outraged because their black constituents have more freedom (on this one narrow topic) than other groups?

    Strange times we're living in.

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