Through a shocking revelation, we learned last week that a major, national anti-tobacco organization ran a secret campaign to promote youth cigarette addiction.
The organization: The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
The secret campaign: Federal lobbying against a ban on menthol-flavored cigarettes.
The admission: This campaign promoted youth cigarette addiction by protecting the cigarette companies' ability to market the most popular flavored cigarette (menthol) to youth and the campaign worked: menthol cigarette use among youth increased significantly thanks to the lobbying efforts of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
The reason I call this revelation shocking is that I find it scandalous that an organization which is supposedly dedicated to fighting youth addiction to cigarettes would secretly lobby for legislation that protects cigarette companies' profits by blocking public health efforts to prohibit the companies' ability to use flavored cigarettes to attract and addict kids to smoking.
And instead of admitting its mistake and apologizing, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is now bemoaning the devastating damage that was caused by menthol cigarettes without acknowledging that it was largely responsible for this damage because it lobbied against taking menthol cigarettes off the market.
The Rest of the Story
When Congress debated the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which was signed into law by President Obama in 2009, perhaps the most critical issue it considered was whether or not to curtail the cigarette companies' ability to use menthol flavoring to attract and recruit kids to a lifetime of addiction to smoking.
The proposal on the table already banned non-menthol flavorings, but there was a problem: there were no non-menthol flavorings on the market. So while the proposal banned cherry, strawberry, banana, and pineapple cigarettes, there were no such products on the market. Candy-flavored cigarettes were not the problem. Menthol cigarettes were.
So the United States Senate debated whether to actually ban flavored cigarettes (i.e., menthol cigarettes) or whether to pretend to ban flavored cigarettes while exempting the only flavored cigarettes that were actually on the market (menthol cigarettes).
Understandably, a number of public health organizations came out strongly in favor of banning menthol cigarettes. But one organization - the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids - turned its back to the public's health and to the children it was supposedly committed to protecting.
Instead of lobbying for the menthol ban, it lobbied against it. The Campaign went to war, not to protect youth from a lifetime of addiction, but to protect the cigarette companies' ability to use flavored cigarettes to recruit and entice kids into a lifetime of addiction to smoking.
Last week, in a report entitled "The Flavor Trap," the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids revealed that data from the National Youth Tobacco Surveys demonstrates that its lobbying efforts resulted in the increased addiction of youth to menthol cigarette smoking, acknowledging that the "use of menthol cigarettes, the only remaining flavored cigarettes, increased significantly after the ban."
It is disingenuous for the Campaign to call menthol cigarettes "the only remaining flavored cigarettes" because menthol cigarettes were the only existing flavored cigarettes at the time the legislation was enacted. So yes, it is technically true that menthol cigarettes were the only remaining flavored cigarettes after the ban but they were the only remaining flavored cigarettes before the ban as well.
This admission - that the use of menthol cigarettes by kids increased significantly as a result of the legislation's menthol exemption - is quite damning. It essentially acknowledges that it was the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' lobbying that was responsible for this rise in menthol cigarette use. Had this exemption not been granted, it is likely that youth cigarette smoking would have declined even more substantially.
What makes the report even more damning, however, is that the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids' hides from the public the fact that it actively lobbied against a ban on menthol-flavored cigarettes. While it boasts about having banned lime, bubble gum, chocolate, and raspberry cigarettes - none of which were on the market to begin with - the Campaign fails to disclose its role in protecting menthol cigarettes.
The Campaign hides the fact that it chose to come down on the side of Big Tobacco rather than on the side of America's youth.
Now - after the fact - the Campaign appears to be giving lip-service to the idea of extending the cigarette flavor ban to menthol. However, most of its attention is focused on banning flavored e-cigarettes - which are not addicted any nonsmoking youth- not on banning flavored real cigarettes, which the Campaign admits are addicting an increasing number of kids.
The rest of the story is that when it really mattered, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids opted to protect the interests of Big Tobacco rather than to protect our nation's youth from a lifetime of addiction to the most deadly products on the market.