I'm not much kidding in making that connection. If there is any flavor in tobacco products that is contributing toward youth addiction and ultimately, disease, it is menthol. Menthol cigarettes are preferred by nearly 50% of youth smokers. And menthol is the one flavoring that was exempt from prohibition under the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.
Who was responsible for that exemption? Ironically, the policy makers who are currently calling for a ban on flavorings in electronic cigarettes.
Despite the lack of evidence that electronic cigarettes are leading to any tobacco use among youth, and despite the strength of the evidence that menthol cigarettes make up about 50% of the tobacco cigarettes that youth do smoke, it makes absolutely no sense for policy makers to call for a ban on flavorings in electronic cigarettes, but not to demand a similar policy for the menthol in cigarettes.
Unfortunately, this is exactly the state of affairs among the leading politicians who supported the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act and who are now switching their attention over to electronic cigarettes, which they are treating like a far greater scourge on the health of our nation's children.
The new study found that menthol smokers had higher rates of hospitalization for chronic lung disease. Beware, however. There were major differences between the populations of menthol and non-menthol smokers in this study, and I do not personally feel that the study controlled adequately enough for these differences to be able to attribute the observed health differences specifically to the presence of menthol.
Similarly, I have long argued that a policy which aims to ban menthol because menthol cigarettes pose a greater health risk than non-menthol cigarettes is flawed from the start, because the scientific evidence doesn't support such a judgment.
In fact, the reason for the flavorings ban in the Tobacco Control Act is not that flavored cigarettes are any more hazardous, but that - hypothetically - youth would be more attracted to such products. But on that basis, not only should menthol cigarettes have been banned, but all flavorings that are added to cigarettes should have been banned as well. In other words, the policy made little sense and was internally and externally inconsistent from day one.
Now is the time for the politicians to put up or shut up. Either back up your supposed concern for kids' health by sponsoring legislation to ban menthol and all flavorings in cigarettes, or cut the crap about the need to ban the flavorings from e-cigarettes in order to end the scourge that these flavors are having on our nation's children.