Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Nearly Half of Teen Smokers are Using Menthol Cigarettes; Leading Anti-Smoking Groups Clearly Not Interested in Addressing Youth Smoking Problem

Anti-Smoking Groups Also Don't Appear to Be Sincere About the Desire to Address the Problem of Smoking Among African American Youths in Particular

A new report issued by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) indicates that nearly half of adolescent smokers (ages 12 to 17) are smoking menthol-flavored cigarettes, a finding which calls into question the sincerity of the leading anti-smoking groups in wanting to actually do something to address the problem of youth smoking.

While the leading anti-smoking groups - led by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Lung Association, and the American Medical Association - lobbied Congress to ban most flavored cigarettes, they specifically asked policy makers not to get rid of menthol cigarettes.

However, these new data show that nearly half of adolescent cigarette use is attributable to the smoking of menthol-flavored cigarette brands. In contrast, the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act - which was purported by these same anti-smoking groups to have curtailed the tobacco industry's ability to addict our nation's youths - resulted in the removal of exactly zero Big Tobacco flavored cigarette brands from the market.

According to the report, which summarizes findings from the 2008 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 47.7% of 12-17 year-old smokers smoked menthol cigarettes in 2008, which is an increase from the 43.5% who smoked menthol brands in 2004.

Among African American smokers (ages 12 and older), the proportion using menthol cigarettes was 82.6%. Thus, menthol-flavored cigarettes account for the overwhelming majority of cigarette use among African Americans.

The use of menthol cigarettes was found to be particularly important in the smoking initiation process. Among adolescents who were in the process of starting to smoke (past year initiates), menthol-flavored cigarette use was 49.2%. Among teens who had started smoking more than one year ago, menthol cigarette brand use was 43.8%.

The report concludes that menthol is an important contributor to adolescent smoking - especially to the smoking initiation process - and that it enhances smoking initiation by masking the harshness of cigarette smoke. It also notes that menthol cigarettes make it more difficult to quit smoking.

The Rest of the Story

If the leading anti-smoking groups were sincere in their statements indicating that they believe flavored cigarettes need to be taken off the market in order to curtail the ability of cigarette companies to entice youths to smoke using these flavorings, then they most certainly would have wanted to ban menthol cigarettes, which we now know are responsible for about one-half of all adolescent smoking.

However, rather than pushing for menthol to be included in the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act's prohibition on flavored cigarettes, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids actively lobbied to prevent Congress from including menthol cigarettes in the flavoring ban.

Thus, the anti-smoking groups worked hard to make sure that the legislation would have little effect on youth smoking. And they apparently knew full well that their efforts were nothing more than a political ploy - designed to make it look like they had done something to curb youth smoking when in fact they knew they were doing virtually nothing.

With any degree of sincerity about addressing the youth smoking problem, a public health group advocating for the elimination of flavored cigarettes would surely not work to protect the one cigarette flavoring which is most responsible for youth smoking and which, we now know, is actually responsible for half of all cigarettes smoked by adolescents.

Irrespective of the wisdom of regulating cigarette flavorings in the first place, I think we can all agree that any group being sincere in its statement that flavorings are contributing to youth smoking and therefore need to be banned would not proceed to try to protect the one flavoring that is actually used by about half of all teens who smoke.

The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act turns out to be little more than a thinly-veiled attempt to allow anti-smoking groups to boast to their constituents that they are really doing something to protect our nation's youth when in fact, they failed to have the political courage to actually do the one thing that would have made a difference: getting rid of the flavoring that we now know accounts for half of all youth smoking initiation.

In my opinion, these groups have abandoned the principles of public health protection and sacrificed their scientific and ethical integrity in order to achieve political and financial gain. In the end, they sacrificed the health of our nation's children - and especially our African American children - in order that they might be able to "show off" to their constituents.

In the midst of the deterioration of these major anti-smoking groups into little more than political propaganda machines, there is one group which deserves a shout out for having the integrity to be willing to actually confront the problem, rather than just talk about it: The American Legacy Foundation had the courage to call for a ban on menthol cigarettes. That is a group which appears to be sincere about its desire to address the problem of youth smoking.

In contrast, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, ALA, ACS, AHA, and AMA have disintegrated into political propaganda tanks, with apparently no true desire or courage to confront the actual problem. Perhaps this shouldn't come as a surprise. The American Legacy Foundation is the one group of the list that doesn't rely upon private contributions from constituents. It's amazing what a difference it makes when you take the desire for money out of the picture.

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