Public Health

The Times Discovers the Tobacco Bill's Flavoritism

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The New York Times notices that the bill authorizing the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products bans every cigarette flavor but menthol. Not coincidentally, Philip Morris, the only cigarette manufacturer that supports the bill, sells mentholated brands, while those other flavors are used by its competitors. But instead of wondering whether a bill that seems designed to reinforce the advantages of the industry leader is good for consumers, the Times suggests menthol should be banned too. It offers three reasons:

1) Menthol cigarettes are "the most popular cigarette choice of African-American smokers," who account for a disproportionate share of the market for brands such as Newport and Kool. The Times never explains why this is troubling, but the concern is of a piece with the anti-smoking refrain that it's especially reprehensible for tobacco companies to "target" blacks because they, like women and children, are a "vulnerable group."

2) "Menthol smokers may be exposed to higher levels of dangerous compounds than nonmenthol smokers." If so, the greater hazard could be due to chemicals produced by burning menthol or to menthol's cooling, anesthetic effect, which might encourage smokers to take bigger or deeper puffs or hold them longer. But there's no firm evidence that mentholated brands are in fact more dangerous. The Times cites a CDC scientist who refers to "multiple lines of evidence, generally consistent, suggesting that there's reason for concern," while conceding "there are few definitive answers about the health impact of menthol cigarettes." A 2002 review by the CDC and the National Cancer Institute, the Times reports, "said the research up to that point had been inconclusive," and "in five large studies of menthol to date, only one has found higher rates of cancer among menthol smokers than nonmenthol smokers, and only in men." 

3) Menthol "may make it harder for the addicted to kick the smoking habit." How so? "One theory suggests that menthol in cigarettes, by providing an additional pleasurable sensory cue to smokers, reinforces addiction." This is just another way of saying that people who smoke menthol cigarettes like the way they smell and taste.

As I noted a few years ago, when an earlier version of this tobacco bill was introduced, anti-smoking activists consider good taste inherently objectionable, ostensibly because it appeals to minors. Former Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), a co-sponsor of that bill, tells the Times, "We were able to eliminate the use of flavored cigarettes, strawberry, mocha, and all this stuff that is clearly targeted at young kids…to start them smoking tobacco." As usual, this argument goes unchallenged, but it is patently absurd to claim that luring underage smokers is the only possible reason for adding flavor to tobacco products. People over the age of 18 have been known to smoke clove cigarettes, vanilla-flavored cigars, and cherry-infused pipe tobacco. Instead of pretending that it's all about the kids, the advocates of FDA regulation should admit that they want to make the smoking experience as boring and unpleasant as possible, the better to deter everyone, whether 16 or 60, from consuming tobacco products.

My most recent column on the tobacco bill is here.

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  1. Hmm, when I was a youth and decided I was going to smoke, I purposely chose one of the rougher cigarettes. I certainly wasn’t going to smoke any candy-flavored crap.

    LS/MFT, by God!

  2. Remember those candy cigarettes? Those were cool.

  3. We had “space astronaut” (or something similar) candy cigarettes when I was a kid. Not entirely sure about smoking in space …

  4. PIRS,

    Yep. I give those out to kids during Halloween.

  5. The Times never explains why this is troubling, but the concern is of a piece with the anti-smoking refrain that it’s especially reprehensible for tobacco companies to “target” blacks because they, like women and children, are a “vulnerable group.”

    That reasoning reeks of racist paternalism. The white man’s burden crap.

    “Menthol smokers may be exposed to higher levels of dangerous compounds than nonmenthol smokers.”

    And maybe not. NYT should be ashamed for bringing it up.

    Menthol “may make it harder for the addicted to kick the smoking habit.”

    Only if you like menthol cigarettes. Since the majority of smokers prefer regulars over menthol. Shouldn’t we instead mandate menthol flavoring in all cigarettes to encourage those regulars smokers to quit?

  6. Dear Lord, whatever would we do without the New York Times looking out for our best interests? We’re certainly too vulnerable to do that for ourselves.

  7. Since the majority of smokers prefer regulars over menthol. Shouldn’t we instead mandate menthol flavoring in all cigarettes to encourage those regulars smokers to quit?

    And be accused of promoting racial genocide?

  8. They better not ban menthol. As a menthol smoker, when people ask me for a cigarette I reply that “okay, but it is a menthol.” Most people just turn and walk away. God knows how many packs that has saved me.

  9. Incidentally, among the Senate bill’s 57 co-sponsors (43 Democrats, 12 Republicans, and both Independents) are all three Presidential candidates. So while this one probably won’t get through the current Administration, look forward to it after 2008.

  10. Boston,

    Been there, done that. Now, I just don’t keep cigarettes on me and only smoke at home, not that I can smoke in many places seeing as how I live in smoking-ban Ohio. It was always funny how sometimes people would be desperate enough to choke down a menthol.

  11. Two reasons why I now consider the FDA to be more concerned with enacting laws in order to ensure future income and not at all concerned with the health of the American public:

    Research Fact: Smokeless tobacco use is 98% safer than smoking.

    “…compare directly the annual mortality of 46 million smokers with an equal number of smokeless tobacco users. The number of deaths from smoking is almost 70 times higher than the number from smokeless tobacco use. In terms of life expectancy, the smokeless-tobacco user loses only about 15 days on average, compared with the eight years lost by the smoker.”
    http://www.smokersonly.org/index.html

    And if your afraid of mouth cancer or are botherd by spitting, investigate Swedish SNUS, a brand of which is now available in the US by Camel. “Users of Snus, which contains low levels of tobacco-specific nitrosamines, a carcinogen, incur a risk of developing oral cancer no greater than nonsmokers, the journal Tobacco Control reported last year.”

    Add to this the link between a lack of vitamin D3 and cancer. We’re talking a 60 to 77% reduction in cancer, simply by increasing your intake of D3 from 400 to 4k I.U. /day. (a 100 count bottle of 2k IU D3 at your local pharmacy is approx. $8.00 !)
    http://www.vitamindcouncil.org/cancerMain.shtml

  12. Who cares if somethings flavor attracts children? Children are attracted to all kinds of things that are bad for them. That’s why they have parents that can smack them up the back of the head.

  13. We had “space astronaut” (or something similar) candy cigarettes when I was a kid. Not entirely sure about smoking in space …

    But it’s an easy fix. One line of dialogue. “Thank God we invented the… you know, whatever device.”

  14. I am so close to picking up the habbit of smoking maple leaves just to defy the nanny statists. Maple leaves don’t produce any type of high, which is why they are still legal. Smoking them still means inhaling a bunch of carinogens, but at this point, Patrick Henry’s motto might apply.

  15. Mostly a good article, but this:
    “Menthol “may make it harder for the addicted to kick the smoking habit.” How so? “One theory suggests that menthol in cigarettes, by providing an additional pleasurable sensory cue to smokers, reinforces addiction.” This is just another way of saying that people who smoke menthol cigarettes like the way they smell and taste.”
    is wrong. Environmental cues, like smoking non-nicotinic cigarette substitutes would be, are a major component of addiction.

  16. And if your afraid of mouth cancer or are botherd by spitting, investigate Swedish SNUS, a brand of which is now available in the US by Camel.

    Or get the real stuff from Sweden. This is 2008, after all. I use http://www.buysnus.com, and have gotten kind of partial to Gotlandssnus.

    The whole article is a great example of the “may not” rule. Every time some nannyfascist tool says “X may cause Y”, just rephrase to the semantically equivalent “X may or may not cause Y”. Example:

    Menthol smokers may or may not be exposed to higher levels of dangerous compounds than nonmenthol smokers.

  17. Sorry, Jacob, I read somewhere that since tobacco companies have paid you to reprint your articles that Phillip Morris himself has his hand up your ass and makes you walk and talk and I’m not supposed to believe anything you say ever.

  18. So they’re planning on banning flavored cigarettes… guess it’s time to switch to pipe smoking, then. (I get the feeling that yes, such a substitution effect may take place.)

    Of course, then they’ll just ban flavored pipe tobacco, in which case then things are bound to get ugly.

  19. Smoking is dangerous? WTF?!? Why didn’t the government tell me?

  20. So the conservatives are racist because they
    want blacks to keep smoking; and the liberals
    are racist becuase they think blacks are too
    weak and stupid to stop smoking on thier own.
    This echoes the drug war in a lot of ways. On
    the one hand, coke and pot became a threat only
    after they migrated to black communities; on the other, the Rev. Wrights of the world still blame drug use among blacks on the Conspiracy
    instead of simply as a choice made by an individual, whatever his or her race. This is
    your brain…this is your brain on race.

  21. But as many, many people noted on Chappelle’s Show, no one knows why black people smoke menthols, except for that’s what Newports are.

  22. If you ban clove cigarettes I will cry and cut myself with even greater fervor!

  23. Silly paternalists
    Sinful things are supposed to be pleasureful… that’s how we can tell they’re a sin!

  24. Thank God Nicorette Gum still comes in Menthol and other fruity and cinnamony’ flavors/s

  25. menthol in cigarettes, by providing an additional pleasurable sensory cue to smokers, reinforces addiction

    Yes, which explains why it’s so hard to kick the Halls cough drop habit. Oh, that sweet, sweet Advanced Vapor Action(R).

  26. Who would have thunk it? Cigarette makers have figured out how to “crackify” cigarettes by adding menthol.

  27. The words “paternalistic racism” popped into my head as well after reading that first item from the Times’ piece. I think I prefer the overt, redneck brand of racism. At least it doesn’t pretend to be anything else.

  28. oh come on nobody other than goofy teenagers smokes cloves.

  29. Hey now, unreconstructed children of the 80s have a predilection for cloves. The great thing about being adults is the right to be goofy.

    Where’s my shisha?

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