The FDA is considering banning the sale of menthol-flavored cigarettes. This has been met with opposition from many sides, many of which are African American groups:
On Monday, the debate among African American organizations burst into the open after the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP, joined ranks with the anti-smoking group, the American Legacy Foundation, in calling for a ban on menthol as a cigarette flavoring.
The NAACP’s appeal came just days after three other African American groups — the Congress of Racial Equality, the National Black Chamber of Commerce, and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives — urged the FDA to reject a ban on mentholated cigarettes. Those groups, testifying before a recent meeting of the FDA’s scientific advisory panel on tobacco products, expressed concern that banning mentholated cigarettes could spur an illicit market for the outlawed products in minority communities where they are favored. Such a trade in banned menthol cigarettes, in turn, would likely drive a range of illegal activity and put new burdens on law enforcement agencies, they warned.
Tobacco companies deny allegations that they are specifically advertising to certain ethnicities, of course. From CNN:
Leonard Jones, director of marketing at Lorillard Tobacco Company, said that “ethnicity does not play a role” in marketing strategies for the Newport menthol cigarette. “We don’t collect or retain information on ethnicity in our marketing data base.”
To that I say: bravo sierra.
They have to say that. I’m sure the statement is factually correct– as in, I’m sure it’s true that they don’t collect data related to ethnicity, but it’s not difficult to know where to market to people of color, or any other demographic, for that matter. Of course tobacco companies make sure to advertise menthol cigarettes in areas heavily populated with ethnic minorities. And it’s not rocket science. I used to smoke American Spirit menthol cigarettes, and they weren’t advertised anywhere that I went to on a regular basis; but when I moved to a predominantly black neighborhood years later, there were huge advertisements for them in every convenience store, gas station, and liquor store nearby. In fact, I don’t recall tobacco advertisements for regular cigarettes at all, or at least with the same frequency, size, or prevalence as advertisements for menthol cigarettes.
The other group opposing the proposed ban is not at all surprising: tobacco companies. They claim that menthol cigarettes are no more harmful than regular cigarettes. The jury is still out, officially, but some studies suggest that, while it’s still unclear whether or not the menthol flavoring by itself is dangerous, people who smoke menthols are more likely to inhale more deeply and hold the smoke intheir lungs longer than smokers of regular cigarettes, increasing the harmful effects of the poisonous substances.
Personally, I don’t see any benefit to such a ban. I agree with many of the groups quoted earlier who believe that, following a ban, menthol cigarettes will become yet another source of organized crime in working-class neighborhoods, causing more strain on the law enforcement community, and adding yet one more reason for law enforcement to target African American males. A better option would be to increase regulations on marketing of tobacco. For one thing, get the advertisements out of gas stations where kids frequently walk or ride their bikes to spend their allowances on candy and magazines. Prohibit advertisements where people look happy to be smoking– or better yet, where people are shown smoking, period. Follow through with the proposal to put graphic images of diseased lungs and other smoking-related health maladies on cigarette packages.
History has made it abundantly clear that prohibitions on substances like tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs do not work. They just simply do not work. People have to be allowed to be able to make the choice about whether or not to engage in harmful behavior, and so long as every person has the opportunity to make an educated decision about the matter, they should be free to do so. And, because I’m a Big Brother-loving socialist or something, I think more regulation is the answer. Regulate and tax the hell out of tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, and other narcotics, make clear, accurate information about the substances readily and easily available to the public at large, and don’t allow any kind of manipulative marketing practices, and then, let the people decide.
If criminalizing marijuana, prostitution, alcohol, and abortion doesn’t help to stop the activity, neither will banning menthol cigarettes from being sold.