The American Medical Association (AMA) today announced that despite the protests of African-American tobacco control groups, prominent public health leaders, and many of its own physician members, it would oppose the removal of the menthol exemption in the FDA tobacco legislation in order to protect tobacco sales and thus retain the support of Philip Morris for the bill.
According to an Associated Press article, the reason for this opposition to the removal of the menthol exemption "is that the menthol exemption helped congressional leaders reach a bipartisan compromise on legislation that would put cigarettes under government regulation." In other words, it was the menthol exemption that was deemed necessary to retain Philip Morris' support for the legislation.
However: "William S. Robinson, executive director of the African American Tobacco Prevention Network, said the group believes a superior tobacco control bill could be crafted without the support of Philip Morris, which makes several menthol brands. 'We understand from an industry perspective why menthol is off the table,' Robinson said. 'We think part of it is because menthol represents almost 30 percent of the $70 billion U.S. cigarette market.'"
The AMA president - Dr. Ron Davis - was described in the article as supporting the menthol exemption because unlike other cigarette additives, menthol does not lure young smokers: "And while other flavor additives are aimed at luring young smokers, menthol is different, he said. Banning it would merely drive mature black smokers to other brands, said Davis. 'It would change the entire political dynamic.'"
The Rest of the Story
It is greatly disappointing to me that the American Medical Association would sell out the health of the nation's African-American youths and adults to protect cigarette sales in order to keep the nation's leading cigarette company happy and remaining shoulder-to-shoulder with the health groups.
What the AMA is doing here is supporting the protection of cigarette company profits instead of protecting the public's health.
Moreover, the AMA is using lame and unsupportable excuses to defend its tobacco industry-supporting position. To argue that menthol is unlike other cigarette additives in that it is not intended to support the smoking uptake process is unsupportable by the scientific evidence. In fact, the evidence documents that menthol is the most - not the least - effective flavoring in cigarettes, and that unlike cigarettes with other flavorings banned by the bill, which almost no one smokes, menthol cigarettes are actually being used by millions of Americans.
The AMA is supporting a ban on flavorings that are not actually used to any significant degree to hook kids, but opposing a ban on the one flavoring that we know contributes to the addiction of youth smokers and which literally millions of Americans are using. That makes absolutely no public health sense.
The AMA sounds more like a tobacco company than a group of doctors when it argues that banning menthol would merely lead smokers to switch brands and would have no effect on smoking initiation or cessation. There is actually strong reason to believe that a ban on menthol could have a substantial effect on both smoking initiation and smoking cessation. The AMA clearly has no evidence to support its position. This is merely a lame excuse being used to defend what is obviously a purely political action: a sell out designed to protect the deal forged between the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and Philip Morris.
The AMA has now joined the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in selling out the health of African-Americans to protect tobacco company profits.
With "enemies" like America's physicians, Big Tobacco really doesn't need any friends.