Wednesday, June 24, 2009

On Day that Anti-Smoking Groups Boast that Tobacco Companies Will No Longer Entice Kids With Flavored Cigarettes, Philip Morris Announces Blend No. 54

Product is a Bold, Full-Flavored Menthol Cigarette Directed at Young African Americans

The anti-smoking groups which supported the FDA tobacco legislation are living in a fantasy land, completely isolated from the real world of Big Tobacco politics, wheeling and dealing, and marketing, and no where is that more evident than the twin events of yesterday.

On the one hand, the American Cancer Society lied to the public, boasting that "Our nation's children – potential first-time smokers – will no longer be seduced by flavored tobacco products, including candy- and fruit-flavored cigarettes, which will be banned." Other health groups deceived the public in a similar fashion, telling us that candy-flavored cigarettes will be no more, but failing to mention that menthol flavoring is exempt. Even President Obama got into the act, boasting that candy and fruit flavorings will be banned, but conveniently hiding the fact that menthol flavorings are exempt.

So we were led to believe by the health groups that the days of cigarette companies using flavorings to entice our children into smoking are over.

At the same time that the health groups were busy patting themselves on the back in the Rose Garden for getting rid of flavored cigarettes that nobody smokes, Philip Morris was announcing the introduction of a new flavored cigarette -- perfectly legal and acceptable under the new law -- designed specifically to entice and addict young people, especially African Americans: Marlboro Blend No. 54.

Apparently, we were lied to by the health groups. If cigarette flavorings, including candy flavorings like menthol, are banned, then why is Philip Morris introducing a new menthol-flavored cigarette which is perfectly legal under the new legislation?

The answer is simple: the bill does not ban all flavors and not even all candy flavors. It exempts menthol, which is actually a common flavoring used in candy. Haven't you ever tried Airwaves cherry menthol candy? Have you not tried Kanro's Super Menthol candy? How about Honees Menthol Honey candy?

Well, the good news is that the honey in Honees menthol honey candy is banned from cigarettes; the bad news is that the menthol flavoring in Honees menthol honey candy is not.

Of course, the other part of the bad news is that no one is smoking honey cigarettes, while literally millions of Americans, including many youths, are smoking menthol cigarettes.

So I guess we didn't quite get rid of all candy-flavored cigarettes, did we?

And so while the health groups were busy telling an outright lie to the American public -- that cigarette flavorings and candy flavorings were banned -- Philip Morris was busy making plans for the enticement of the next generation of smokers through the use of a wonderfully attractive candy flavoring: menthol.

And there seems to be little doubt who Philip Morris is targeting with this product. Do you think the number 54 for this new Marlboro menthol blend is just a coincidence? Was it chosen by a random number generator?

Or is it possible that the number 54 has a special meaning, particularly to an African American population that may be largely familiar with urban slang, in which "54" is often used to refer to "a very hot girl with a really fine ass." (Those are not my words, I'm quoting directly from the urban slang dictionary). Other uses of "54" in urban slang include "a leet counter-strike invite club, for leet cs players" and "a term used to emphasize legal legitimacy."

Although the leading anti-smoking groups which promoted the FDA legislation would have us believe that the battle for youth and young adult market share is the banana market, the pineapple market, the cherry market, and the chocolate market, anyone living in reality rather than political and propaganda fantasy land knows that the true battle for youth and young adult market share is in the menthol market.

While the flavors banned by the FDA legislation make up perhaps 0.1% of cigarettes smoked by youths at the most, menthol cigarettes make up about 28% of the overall domestic cigarette market. The percentage is even higher among African American youths, where menthol cigarettes have about an 80% market share.

Maybe if African American kids start to smoke and we are at least protecting white kids, it is a public health victory; but where I come from, public health is about social justice and the health groups should be ashamed of themselves for supporting a bill that sells out the health of African American children for the profits of Big Tobacco, and then lying about it to try to hide that fact from the public.

If exempting menthol was necessary to retain Philip Morris' support for the legislation and keep the back room deal alive, then so be it. But don't stand in front of the American people and lie about it. Don't hide the fact that menthol was exempted as a political compromise. Don't lie to us and tell us that all flavorings are banned by the bill. Don't lie to use and tell us that all candy flavorings are banned by the bill.

Just stand up like a man or woman and tell us that you made a political compromise for the sole purpose of retaining Philip Morris' support.

Lying is supposed to be a technique used by the tobacco companies, not by us in public health. Apparently, that's no longer the case.

The rest of the story is that the bill's provisions for the FDA regulation of cigarettes are essentially window dressing. They are designed to allow the health groups to claim that they beat Big Tobacco, fire up their constituents, and obtain an infusion of donations. But the truth is that back in the real world, the substance of the legislation is missing. The law does almost nothing to actually protect our nation's children from addiction.

The saddest part of the story is this: now we need something to protect us from the lies being told by our own anti-smoking and health organizations.

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