Today I announce the first place winner in my annual Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire Award for the worst public lie in the tobacco control field in 2011 (the Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire Award name is borrowed from PolitiFact, which uses the term in its truth-o-meter).
First Place - 2011 Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire Award: American Cancer Society
In a communication sent to the American Cancer Society's (ACS) network of advocates throughout the nation (including myself) and posted on the Society's web site, the ACS lied about the effects of the FDA tobacco legislation passed by Congress in 2009. Although this lie first appeared in print in 2009, the ACS has continued to mislead the public about this issue, and in 2011, lobbied for state legislation in New York that would have plugged the flavored cigar loophole, but failed to address the menthol cigarette exemption. The ACS incorrectly and deceptively referred to this legislation as a ban on flavored "tobacco products," when in fact, it merely banned flavored cigars and smokeless tobacco and left menthol cigarette untouched.
According to the American Cancer Society's statement: "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."
The American Cancer Society thus claimed that the FDA tobacco legislation banned all flavored tobacco products.
The Rest of the Story
If the American Cancer Society had read the actual text of the legislation or read any of hundreds of newspaper articles about the bill, it would have easily found out that the bill did not ban all flavored tobacco cigarettes that seduce young smokers. The bill specifically exempted menthol from its ban on cigarette flavorings.
The key section of the bill about which the ACS lied is section 907(a)(1)(A), which reads: "Beginning 3 months after the date of enactment of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, a cigarette or any of its component parts (including the tobacco, filter, or paper) shall not contain, as a constituent (including a smoke constituent) or additive, an artificial or natural flavor (other than tobacco or menthol) or an herb or spice, including strawberry, grape, orange, clove, cinnamon, pineapple, vanilla, coconut, licorice, cocoa, chocolate, cherry, or coffee, that is a characterizing flavor of the tobacco product or tobacco smoke."
The American Cancer Society is well aware that menthol is a cigarette flavoring whose primary purpose is to help addict youths by making cigarette smoke less harsh. The ACS itself, in a special report on the topic, stated that cigarette companies use menthol flavoring to: "Numb throat so the smoker does not feel as much throat irritation."
In support of this assertion, the ACS cites a tobacco industry document which argues that a flavoring (such as menthol) which makes cigarette smoke less harsh will help entice youth smokers. According to the ACS report: "The Teague document details a number of product features that make smoking more tolerable for beginning and learning smokers. For example, it discusses methods of reducing harshness, making the flavor bland since new smokers don’t like the taste of the smoke, and improving the “mouth feel” by reducing negatives like hotness and dryness."
In fact, the ACS report goes into tremendous detail about how the tobacco companies are using menthol to entice young African Americans to smoke (whether you agree with this conclusion or not, my point is that the ACS has certainly concluded and argued to the public that menthol is used to entice young smokers):
"The tobacco companies’ success in using menthol cigarettes to target African American kids is exemplified by the disproportionate number of young blacks who smoke menthol cigarettes. Not only does menthol numb the throat to allow deeper inhaling, the companies know menthol is attractive to their African American targets: “Young blacks have found their thing, and it’s menthol in general and Kool in particular.” It is hardly surprising then that 80 percent of 12- to 17-year-old black smokers choose Newport, the leading menthol brand, compared to just 16 percent of young white smokers. Again, these product design decisions can have a terrible impact on health. Menthol cigarettes have higher carbon monoxide concentrations than non-menthol cigarettes and may be associated with a greater absorption of nicotine. Moreover, research indicates that mentholated cigarettes may increase the risk of both lung and bronchial cancer by promoting lung permeability and diffusability of smoke particles. African Americans are more likely to develop and die from cancer than persons of any other racial or ethnic group. Lung cancer is the second most common cancer in both African American men and women and it kills more African Americans than any other type of cancer."
So the ACS is aware that the bill exempts menthol and has also argued previously that menthol flavoring is used in order to entice young smokers by making the smoke less harsh and in particular, by enticing African American youths who are attracted by the menthol flavor.
Therefore, I am saddened but forced to conclude that the American Cancer Society lied to its constituents and the public in its communication stating that the FDA legislation banned all cigarette flavorings and thus ends the enticement of youths by these flavorings.
I should say that I am a long-time American Cancer Society supporter, volunteer, donor, and fund raiser and thus it greatly saddens me to see the ACS lie to the public like this.
But the reason for this lie is also clear. If the ACS were honest with the public, it would have to admit that the bill is a public scam which does little to protect children from addiction to cigarettes but lots to protect cigarette sales. Most notably, the bill bans all the flavorings that are not used very often (or at all), such as banana, pineapple, cherry, chocolate, and cherry, but exempts the one flavoring (menthol) which the ACS itself admits is used to entice huge numbers of young smokers, including a disproportionate number of African Americans. The ACS itself tells us that Newport - a menthol-flavored brand - is smoked by 80% of African American teenagers.
It's interesting that when it was trying to get this bill passed, the ACS had no problem featuring the problems of tobacco use in the African American community, but now that the legislation has been enacted, the ACS is pretending that the African American community doesn't exist and that the enticement and seduction of African American youth smokers by menthol-flavored brands is not a problem.
Clearly, the ACS is afraid to tell the public the truth - that while the bill bans all the flavorings in cigarette brands which are rarely used by youths - it exempts menthol, which is the chief flavoring present in the brands favored by 80% of African American youths. Moreover, menthol is the chief flavoring in the brands favored by about 50% of all youth smokers!
Telling the public the truth - that the bill exempted menthol - would be an embarrassing admission for the ACS, because it would reveal that the Tobacco Act is a scam, which allows health groups and politicians to boast about how they are fighting Big Tobacco but which actually failed to ban any flavored cigarettes manufactured by Big Tobacco and exempted the one flavoring in cigarettes which is favored by half of the nation's youth smokers.
Given that the American Cancer Society has focused so much effort on criticizing the tobacco industry for lying to the public, it seems hypocritical for the ACS to now engage in the same tactics, even though the Society might argue the lie is for a good purpose. I would argue that the lie is not only a lie, but it is for a bad purpose: protecting the menthol cigarette market to ensure that the Tobacco Act had no actual impact on cigarette sales and tobacco company profits.
The American Cancer Society is well-deserving of recognition as the first place finisher in the Rest of the Story's 2011 Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire Award competition.