Monday, November 03, 2008

American Lung Association on Track for 2008 Anti-Smoking Hypocrisy of the Year Award

An action alert put out around Halloween by the American Lung Association asks constituents to write to the CEO of Reynolds American and urge her to stop selling candy-flavored cigarettes, such as those with chocolate, watermelon, lime, vanilla, and berry flavors.

The alert states: "For kids, Halloween is about fun costumes, trick or treating, and of course, candy. And the tobacco companies - especially RJ Reynolds - know that kids love candy. That's why they are dressing up their tobacco products in candy and fruit flavored costumes - to addict a new generation of kids. Over the last few years, RJ Reynolds has sold tobacco products with chocolate, watermelon, lime, vanilla and berry flavors to increase their sales."

"Please click here to send a letter to Reynolds today asking them to stop adding these kid-friendly flavors to their deadly products. Each day, more than 1100 kids become addicted to cigarettes. One-third to one-half of these children will die prematurely from their addiction. Candy flavors should be reminiscent of Halloween and innocence - not death and disease."

"Please send a letter to RJ Reynolds today, telling them to unmask their cigarettes and leave candy for kids."

The prepared letter which the American Lung Association asks you to send states the following: "Chocolate. Mint. Lime. Pineapple. Toffee. Coconut. Vanilla. Berry. Watermelon. Apple. These are just some of the candy and fruit flavors your company has added to its tobacco products, in an effort to addict kids and subject them to a lifetime addiction and a premature death."

"I'm writing today to urge you - as the Chairman, President and CEO of Reynolds American - to stop selling candy-flavored cigarettes, snus and other tobacco products - including your soon-to-be released strips, orbs and sticks. These products are a blatant attempt to addict kids - all for your company's bottom line profits. But by using candy-flavors to sell your products of death, you are taking candy - a youthful indulgence - and turning it into a product that will likely result in users not living to see their own children's or grandchildren's childhoods."

"Selling candy-flavored tobacco products isn't good business. It's unconscionable."

The Rest of the Story

Of course, while it's unconscionable to sell candy-flavored cigarettes, which hardly any adolescents smoke, it's perfectly acceptable to sell menthol-flavored cigarettes, which thousands of adolescents smoke.

The glaring omission in the American Lung Association's action alert is asking Reynolds American to stop selling the one flavoring that is actually being used successfully to help addict millions of American smokers: menthol.

How can it possibly be unconscionable to add candy flavorings to cigarettes but perfectly acceptable to add menthol flavoring, which has been found to preferentially appeal to African American smokers and to contribute to the addiction of millions of Americans?

The answer, of course, is purely political. The American Lung Association has to be careful of what it asks for. The organization has committed itself to supporting the FDA tobacco legislation, which specifically exempts menthol from its list of banned flavorings in cigarettes. To include menthol in its action alert would undermine the organization's support for the currently proposed FDA legislation. It would undermine the organization's argument in favor of the legislation, which has been opposed by numerous African American groups because of its exemption for menthol flavoring.

While the candy flavorings are smoked by very few adolescents, the menthol flavorings are important in the addiction of thousands upon thousands of adolescents. Thus, while getting rid of the candy flavorings will be of little to no consequence to Reynolds American, eliminating the menthol would be huge. It would actually put a dent into cigarette consumption, something the American Lung Association is apparently not too anxious to do.

Constituents of the American Lung Association should be outraged. How can their organization, which purports to be striving to protect the lung health of Americans, run a campaign to get rid of the flavorings that are hardly ever used in cigarettes and addict almost no one, yet at the same time, run a campaign to exempt the flavoring that is most responsible for the very death and destruction that the organization is attributing to the pineapple cigarettes?

Does the organization really want to end addiction, death and disease caused by flavorings in cigarettes or does it not?

Based on its actions, one would be forced to conclude that the American Lung Association does not want to actually end the disease and death caused by cigarette flavorings. It just doesn't want death and disease caused by candy flavorings.

Menthol is OK for death and destruction, but not candy flavors.

This is just the latest example of the hypocrisy that seems to be taking hold in the tobacco control movement.

These window dressing actions might make the groups feel good, but they do nothing to actually deal with the problem.

If I were the CEO of Reynolds American, I would toast the American Lung Association. I would write back and tell them that if they are serious about getting the flavorings out of cigarettes, they should demand that the menthol exemption in the FDA legislation be removed immediately.

Let's see if they are willing to stand for something meaningful or whether this is all window dressing.

No comments: