Nanny State

Do Menthol Cigarettes Taste Too Good to Be Legal?


Last week The New England Journal of Medicine published a point/counterpoint about menthol cigarettes, the subject of a recent report from the Food and Drug Administration's Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee. The report (PDF), issued in late March, concluded that "removal of menthol cigarettes from the marketplace would benefit public health in the United States" but cautioned that "a black market for menthol cigarettes could be created, criminal activity could ensue, and different methods might be used to supply such a black market."

Boston University public health professor Michael Siegel criticizes the advisory committee for kicking the issue back to the FDA without "a clear and strongly stated recommendation that the FDA ban menthol cigarettes to protect the public's health." Neal Benowitz and Jonathan Samet, two members of the committee, defend their work as responsive to their legislative mandate, which was to consider the impact of menthol cigarettes on smoking-related disease. They concluded that mentholation does not seem to make cigarettes more dangerous but that it encourages people (especially African Americans and teenagers, who disproportionately favor menthol brands) to start and continue smoking by making the smoke tastier and less irritating. The same argument, of course, could be made about any feature designed to make cigarettes more appealing.

Siegel argues that forcing Newport and Kool consumers to smoke harsher, fouler-tasting cigarettes would encourage them to quit. "There are 19.2 million menthol-cigarette smokers in the United States," he writes, "and if even a fraction of them quit smoking in response to a menthol ban, it would have a profound effect on public health." He adds that the absence of menthol brands would cut down on smoking initiation. "Approximately half of people who are just starting to smoke usually smoke a menthol brand," he says, "and if even a fraction of those people were to be deterred from initiating smoking, this, too, would have a profound public health benefit." Siegel does not really address the black market issue, except to say that Lorillard, which makes Newports (the No. 1 menthol brand), pushed the same argument, which also was adopted by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids when it argued against a menthol ban as part of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. He suggests the anti-smoking group's main motive was appeasing Philip Morris, which makes several menthol brands and would not have backed a bill that banned them.

For both practical and moral reasons, I don't agree that banning menthol cigarettes is a good idea, any more than banning cigarettes in general would be. But Siegel is on target when he notes the absurdity of banning rarely used cigarette flavors that supposedly appealed to children, as the tobacco control act did, while allowing the one flavor that is actually popular to stay on the market:

It is difficult to understand the rationale for a policy that bans every other type of cigarette flavoring — including chocolate, strawberry, banana, pineapple, cherry, and kiwi — yet exempts the one flavoring that is actually used extensively by tobacco companies to recruit and maintain smokers….Ironically, it is because removing menthol would actually improve the public's health by reducing the consumption of cigarettes that we are not going to see such an action from the federal government. There is no political risk in banning chocolate and strawberry cigarettes, since no companies are currently selling such products and they play no role in smoking initiation. Menthol, however, is a major contributor to smoking initiation and continued addiction, and for this reason, it will continue to enjoy the protection of a federal government that seems afraid to alienate any corporation, whether it's part of Big Pharma, Big Insurance, or Big Tobacco.

It does seem to be the case that Philip Morris, the market leader and the one big company that backed the tobacco control law, saw it as a way to rig the rules in its favor. More on the controversy over cigarette flavoritism, including the question of whether it is racist, here and here.

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  1. a black market for menthol cigarettes

    Nah….Too easy.

    1. That’s racist!

  2. No. Menthols are gross. Actually tobacco is gross, but menthol is nastier. Banning flavored tobacco is just as disgusting though. My natural disgust at menthols is probably less than my disgust at nannies.

    It sucks to be a self-loathing smoker, guess I’ll have to soldier-up and pick a quit date. At this point anti-smoking propaganda just makes me want to smoke more, guh.

    1. “I’ll have to soldier-up and pick a quit date”

      Just tell yourself this: I can take all the money I’ll save and spend it on weed.

    2. I recommend the ecig. Just don’t grab the crap at the mall kiosk. Joye eGo is the way to go. I can offer links to websites to order through if you’d like.

    3. depends on if you have a certain variant of the trpv5 receptor. I recall reading a paper where african americans have a different pain threshold because they had a mutation in this receptor, which is also known to be the menthol taste receptor. First thing I thought was… Damn, that’s why they like menthols.

      1. oops. trpm8, not trpv5

        1. bah, trpa1. I’ll just go through the whole list of pain sensors.

          1. Thank God for the sicle cell.

    4. You try Chantix, proegg? It was a miracle for me.

  3. Clearly written by people who have never smoked a cig in their lives. Menthols taste like holy hell. And woe betide anyone who smokes them when they’re sick-drunk. You will autopuke any time you come within 10 feet of those things.

    1. I don’t smoke anymore, but I was thinking the same thing. I remember smoking newports and less harsh would not be a phrase I would have used to describe them.

    2. as i wrote above menthol cigs likely taste different if you are an african-american.

    3. Menthols are an acquired taste. Not one that I’ve personally acquired, but I can see someone growing to like them.

      1. My aversion is purely conditioned by being puking drunk and smoking them. Before that I didn’t mid them.

        1. *mind

          1. I’ve been smoking Newports since I was 14 – and I’m a white-ass farm kid from Iowa.

            I used to bartend in AZ, and I had a group of black guys hanging out in there one night, and they saw a pack of Newports on the bar (mine) and wondered who they belonged to. When I told them it was me, they all shit themselves and asked which part of Cali I was from…

            I love me some Newports

    4. I learned the hard way not to smoke one of those when wasted. Ugh.

  4. “Approximately half of people who are just starting to smoke usually smoke a menthol brand,”

    I’m calling bullshit on that. Show me the study, cuz that has a fucking lie written all over it.

    1. Perhaps Joe Camel appealed disproportionately to white people, and getting rid of him meant that blacks are now the majority of new smokers. And if they’re the majority of new smokers, well…

      1. I think menthols are also increasingly popular with AZNs too given the frequency which menthols appear on the rave scene and are associated with MDMA usage.

      2. The Kool penguin probably appealed disproportionately to Eskimos. Where is that penguin now? Did it get a tracheostomy or need to get a lung out? Maybe without the weight of that 2nd lung holding it down, it flew away.

  5. Do Menthol Cigarettes Taste Too Good to Be Legal?

    FTFY. And the answer is no.

    1. Serious question from a non-smoker… If they don’t taste good, what leads people to smoke them?

      1. Same reason people listen to 50 cent, buy lotto tickets, and vote Democrat?

        1. Same reason those people listen to 50 cent, buy lotto tickets, and vote Democrat?

          1. Eh, I don’t know about that. When I occassionally smoke, I’ll sometimes get the Camel Crush packs, where you can crush a little ball in the filter to make the cig a menthol. I occassionally like that for the last couple drags of the smoke.

      2. as i wrote above they probably taste different to african americans.

        1. Saw that right after I posted my comment. Interesting.

          1. with the standard caveats that not all african americans, like our president, come from west african lineages due to ‘triangular trade’, and not all west african americans will have the gene due to ‘early america miscegenation’. So, yeah, assuming someone will like a menthol cig because of their race – racist beyond the inherent racism of biology.

      3. People also drink Budweiser and eat at The Olive Garden. What can you do?

        1. I wouldn’t equate the use of rice as an adjunct in the brewing process with serving stewed rat semen and calling it alfredo sauce

          1. They both taste like shit, so why not?

            1. I find it telling that Sudden had to make up what Olive Garden does that’s so horrible, while the unnatural process employed by AB-InBev is 100% accurate by their own admission.

        2. What’s wrong with the Olive Garden? The waiters there have this cylindrical cheese shredding thing that’s just amazing.

          1. You’re just winding me up, Commodore. Even you can’t like Olive Garden. You’re more of a Red Lobster kind of philistine. I can tell.

          2. I am more than willing to defend their soup-and-salad lunch. The salad is solid, and they have two soups (Zuppa Toscana and Pasta Fagioli) that I really like.

            1. I order linguini and clam sauce at an Olive Garden. It arrived smelling like a methane-rich swamp. I was really hungary, so I decide to eat only the pasta.

              Big mistake.

              1. Sheesh, Pip, don’t leave us hanging. What exactly happened?

        3. Hey, I had a bottle of very green creme de menthe around from a dead friend or somewhere, so I got around to drinking it on ice. Eh, fair. Really didn’t seem to mix with anything I tried, including water.

      4. Ah, but they do taste good. Imho, other cigs taste like weak dirt. Or, imagine that you brewed coffee using dirt — sort of like that. Assuming you’re a coffee drinker.

  6. It does seem to be the case that Philip Morris, the market leader and the one big company that backed the tobacco control law, saw it as a way to rig the rules in its favor.

    Well, then we’ll just have to pass more regulations that prevent Philip Morris from rigging the rules in its favor. That should about do it, right?

    1. Especially interesting considering that a few years prior, PM’s main market competition, RJR Nabisco introduced a line of Camel cigs that had exotic flavors that were starting to peel off marketshare from PM.

      1. I got to the end of the line “Nabisco introduced a line of Camel cigs that had exotic flavors that were starting to peel off”, and just knew the next line had to be “wallpaper” or “paint”.

  7. “There are 19.2 million menthol-cigarette smokers in the United States,” he writes, “and if even a fraction of them quit smoking in response to a menthol ban, it would have a profound effect on public health.”

    And if all meat were required to be soaked in anchovie juice for 24 hours before being presented for sale, that would probably have a profound effect on public health too.

  8. Siegel argues that forcing Newport and Kool consumers to smoke harsher, fouler-tasting actual shit cigarettes would encourage them to quit.

    1. I was just reading about the lady who told a rep of a maker of disposable diapers that she peeled off the liner from used ones and wrapped her husband’s sandwiches in them.

  9. I smoke maybe a pack a year. I just smoked my last clove cig. I bought that carton in 2002. I am now forbidden by my govt from buying another carton. Honestly! Come On!

    1. You’re welcome. /s/ Your Humble Svt

    2. As a non-smoker, I’m just pissed because clove cigarette smoke is the only type of smoke other than pipe tobacco that actually smells good.

    3. Actually, you can still smoke your clove cigarettes. You just have to call them “cigars.”…..90_details

  10. Back in my cig-smoking days, menthols were what you smoked when Marlboros were just a little too tame for you.

    You didn’t smoke them because you thought regular cigarettes were too harsh. You smoked them because you thought regular cigarettes weren’t strong enough.

    1. I smoked them because That’s what I could steal from grandma.

    2. Been smoking Kools for years. I’ve don’t think I’ve ever bummed one to a non-menthol smoker who didn’t immediately remark “Man, are those harsh!”

  11. as one of these “new smokers” that supposedly got hooked cause of menthols, i got to say i hate menthols. only 2 brands are worth a shit: camel no. 9s (girliest cigs ever, but nice when you want a bit of a change)and Marlboro blues (taste like mint sheesha). period, end of story. smoked newports once and nearly threw up.

  12. If menthol cigarettes are banned, do the nanny-staters think that those who like smoking them are too stupid to get their fix by sucking a cough drop while smoking a regular cigarette?

  13. It’s not hard to make your own flavored smokes. Put a drop of clove oil or menthol on the filter.

    Damn. I should have kept quiet and cornered the black market all to myself.

    1. You have given power to the people. You should have kept that power and become the Tony Montana of black market cigarettes.

  14. If true – “easier to start and harder to quit” – why aren’t menthols more than 30% of the US market? Jacob, does the math add up??

  15. I just got my ecigs in the mail yesterday. I do find that the vapor isn’t consistent if i puff on it alot. If i take a 2 min break it’s fine.

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