According to an article published today in the New York Times, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, and other health groups are actively working to prevent Congress from amending the FDA tobacco legislation to ban menthol flavoring in cigarettes; thus, these groups are working to protect cigarette sales and prevent a potentially significant decline in smoking prevalence, especially in the African-American community.
According to the article: "Some supporters of the bill’s current language on menthol have argued that, because menthol is widely used by many smokers, the effects of banning it outright are hard to predict. Among possibilities they have suggested is that menthol smokers would turn to an illicit cigarette market to obtain menthol cigarettes. In a letter to several lawmakers on June 11, a coalition of health groups, including the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, the American Heart Association and the American Lung Association, reiterated their support for the bill without changes to the menthol provisions. 'The impact of modifying or prohibiting such a large portion of the current cigarette market is unclear,' said the letter, sent to Mr. Waxman as well as John D. Dingell of Michigan and Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, House Democrats who head the Committee on Energy and Commerce and its health subcommittee."
The article also reports that the Congressional Black Caucus is calling for changes in the legislation to address the bill's exemption for menthol, which was inserted into the bill in a deal between Philip Morris and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids in order to appease the financial interests of the nation's leading cigarette company. Philip Morris is the manufacturer of Marlboro Menthol, the 2nd leading menthol cigarette brand on the market.
According to the article, menthol has been used by the tobacco industry to market cigarettes to African Americans since the 1950s. It helps to mask the harsh taste of cigarettes and therefore to facilitate the smoking uptake and addiction process. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention agrees that menthol might increase tobacco addiction among African American smokers.
The Rest of the Story
What this story shows, first and foremost, is that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is full of crap.
On the one hand, it argues that we need the FDA tobacco legislation because it will "end special protections for Big Tobacco," "save countless lives," stop consumers from being used as "guinea pigs in the tobacco industry’s deadly science experiments," "limit the industry’s ability to use product design to recruit youth, create and sustain addiction, and discourage smokers from quitting," and put an end to the tobacco industry's ability "to design and market products that recruit new youth users, create and sustain addiction to nicotine, and discourage current users from quitting."
On the other hand, it is actively lobbying to create an unprecedented special protection for Big Tobacco, threaten countless lives, continue the use of African American consumers as guinea pigs in the tobacco industry's deadly science experiments, and maintain the industry's ability to use product design to recruit youth, create and sustain addiction, and discourage smokers from quitting.
In fact, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is essentially promoting death and disease among African-Americans by interfering with legitimate Congressional efforts to rid the African-American community of the menthol scourge which has been ravishing that community for decades.
The Campaign and other health groups are turning to an interesting excuse for their opposition to the menthol ban: we should not modify a large portion of the cigarette market because the effects are unclear.
But the Campaign and these other health groups have argued that the very purpose of the legislation is to modify the entire cigarette market. If banning menthol is going to create a black market, then so will any of the other changes that the FDA might require. Thus, the Campaign is effectively arguing against the very bill it is supposedly supporting.
The bottom line is that I don't believe for a minute that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids truly believes that the public health community should promote the sale of cigarettes. I believe that the Campaign has simply been cornered into an uncomfortable box, in which it has only two choices:
1. Admit the truth: that the Campaign negotiated this bill with Philip Morris and agreed to the menthol exemption as a favor to Philip Morris in order to maintain the company's support for the tobacco deal; or
2. Come up with some lame excuse for why the Campaign must support the menthol exemption, independent of whether Philip Morris will support the bill or not?
Don't you see that the Campaign has been backed up against the wall? If they admit the truth - that they negotiated the bill with Philip Morris and that the negotiated settlement is a back-room deal, with compromises like the menthol exemption inserted specifically to appease and protect Philip Morris' interests, then the Campaign looks terrible for having negotiated with Philip Morris and for having misled thousands of its constituents - including scores of youths - about the history and nature of this legislation.
On the other hand, if the Campaign tries to come up with a lame excuse to explain why the menthol exemption is mandatory, then it looks terrible for working to protect cigarette sales and interfering with the one aspect of the FDA legislation which probably would improve the public's health and save "countless" lives.
I guess the Campaign judged that the better of two evils was to put out this lame excuse. Or perhaps it actually thought that its constituents are so stupid that they would buy this excuse as being valid.
As Dr. Louis Sullivan said, the excuse is "poppycock." No one is going to buy this lame explanation. It is quite obvious that what is going on here is that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids made a back-room deal with Philip Morris, and part of that deal - a deal-breaker - was that menthol cigarette sales were to be protected by exempting menthol from the immediate ban on "all" cigarette flavorings.
The Campaign is working at all costs to prevent this essential truth from coming to light. Because that truth will not only destroy the FDA legislation, it will also expose the Campaign's dishonesty and deception to all of its constituents and to the public.
The irony here is that the FDA legislation will do absolutely nothing to protect the public's health. It is exceedingly ironic that the only thing the legislation might do that would protect the public's health would be to get rid of the menthol which is contributing to the addiction of millions. This doesn't mean that everyone who currently smokes menthol would quit. But some of them would, and many future smokers would be deterred.
The Campaign is interfering with a legitimate Congressional effort to take the one action which actually might save countless lives.
How ironic that the Campaign is boasting about how the bill is going to get rid of all the candy flavorings which are supposedly a huge problem. Well, why are they such a problem if no one is using them? What is being used, and what is a problem, is menthol, and the Campaign doesn't want Congress to do anything about it, because the sales of a key Philip Morris product would be threatened.
By forging this deal with Philip Morris, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids has ironically now become a key Philip Morris ally in the Beltway.
What a brilliant strategy by Philip Morris. I have to hand it to them. What shocks me is that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids fell for it: hook, line, and sinker.
It was absolutely brilliant. Bring the Campaign on in a back-room deal, and then just sit back and let the Campaign do all your bidding for you. Ironically, Philip Morris doesn't have to do anything to try to get Congress to nix the menthol amendment to the legislation. The Campaign and its friends are doing all that work for them.
Philip Morris need not even waste the ink to type a letter to Congress. The Campaign has now become the protector of Philip Morris' financial interests (because it must preserve "the deal") and the Campaign will do all the dirty work for the nation's leading tobacco company.
If I believed that the Campaign were sincere in truly wanting menthol to remain on the market, I would have to condemn them for promoting disease and death among African Americans, which would be inexcusable and unconscionable.
However, instead, I believe that the Campaign is simply trying to protect itself and to prevent the truth from coming out. In my view, that is ....
....inexcusable and unconscionable.