Restrictions sought on menthol cigarettes

Black lawmakers are pushing for more government regulation of tobacco, starting with changes to a House bill that would place a ban on menthol cigarettes.

Black lawmakers are pushing for more government regulation of tobacco, starting with changes to a House bill that would place a ban on menthol cigarettes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, three out of four Black smokers buy menthols, making them the most popular type of cigarette among African Americans.

The Congressional Black Caucus, along with the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network and other organizations, is leading the movement to make changes to a provision in the bill, entitled the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, that bans additives like cinnamon, clove and other fruit, spice and candy flavors in cigarettes but exempts menthols. Many believe that the exclusion of menthol from the Act is racially charged since mostly African Americans smoke menthol cigarettes.

William Robinson, the executive director of NAATPN, said that the different treatment of the issue is discriminatory, which is why his organization no longer supports the bill.

“The bill has commendable things like the restriction of sale to minors, but one shortcoming is the treatment of menthol as an additive,” Robinson said.

A spokesman from the Lorillard Tobacco Company–whose brands include Newport cigarettes, Michael W. Robinson, believes that an attempt to add an amendment to the bill, H.R. 1108, to ban menthol would be misguided.

“This bill does not exempt menthol,” he said. “Rather, menthol, like all other substances, would be subject to FDA review and study. If science supports [that] menthol cigarettes are more dangerous than non-menthol, then the FDA would have the authority to take appropriate measures.

“Lorillard opposes an amendment that would ban menthol. The scientific research to date is inconclusive as to whether menthol products are any better or worse than non-menthol products,” Michael Robinson said.

Menthol helps mask the harshness of the bitter nicotine taste of a cigarette with a cool, mint-like flavor, which allows the smoker to inhale deeper, taking in more carcinogens, William Robinson said. The additive also makes it harder for smokers to quit, according to a study released by the University of California San Francisco, which is the reason why African Americans are at greater risk of dying of smoke-related diseases.

According to the American Lung Association, even though African Americans tend to smoke less than white men and women, they are 37 percent more likely to develop lung cancer. Other conditions include asthma, occupational lung cancer and acute lung infections.

Menthol brand cigarettes like Newport, Marlboro Menthol and others represent 28 percent of the $70 billion American cigarette market.

Each African American adult has been exposed to 892 ads for tobacco and magazine advertising of mentholated cigarettes, increased from 13 percent of total ad expenditures in 1998 to 49 percent in 2005, according to the American Lung Association.

“The most important idea for us is a world without menthol, which would lead to decreased tobacco advertising, decreased use and improved health,” William Robinson said. “Some people may take this as an opportunity to quit.”

The main goal of the CBC and NAATPN is to help the Food and Drug Administration gain regulation of tobacco and all related products, and have the authority to ban menthol.

“Anything that causes death and disease should be regulated by the government,” William Robinson said.

Other organizations that are in support of a provision that would ban menthol cigarettes include the American Medical Association, Action on Smoking and Health, as well as former directors of the FDA.

“We want to make sure we protect the health of our community,” NAATPN’s Robinson said. “We do what we do to keep our people alive and happy.”



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