Friday, July 03, 2009

While Health Groups Congratulate Themselves for Eliminating Flavored Cigarettes, New Marlboro Full-Flavored Cigs Sell for as Little as $2.39 per Pack

While the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, and American Lung Association are busy congratulating themselves for what they have said is the elimination of flavored cigarettes, those of us who actually are concerned with the substance of tobacco control rather than the propaganda are dealing with the real-world problem of the marketing of a new full-flavored menthol cigarette which is apparently targeting young people, especially African Americans.

While the health groups pat themselves on the back, Marlboro Blend No. 54 is selling for as little as $2.39 per pack, a price which is affordable for many youths and will certainly help entice youths to try this particular product. In addition, the taste of the cigarette is described by many smokers as being relatively mild but full of flavor, a characteristic that seems likely to appeal to young people.

What we have here, unfortunately, is a situation where the health groups are more concerned with pomp and circumstance than substance, more devoted to propaganda and fund-raising capabilities than actually fighting Big Tobacco, and more interested in the easy, politically correct, and quick hitting, marginal window-dressing plan than with the aggressive, science-based, core approach that would actually make a significant difference in reducing youth smoking and saving lives.

The cigarette flavor lie is just one example of the fact that the FDA tobacco legislation is designed to make it look like health groups are doing something when there is little substance behind the bill. It allows the groups to claim that they have ended the devastating problem of cherry, banana, pineapple, and chocolate cigarettes which have been addicting and killing our children.

Of course, what the groups aren't telling the public is that our children aren't smoking cherry, banana, pineapple, and chocolate cigarettes. They are smoking menthol cigarettes, and menthol is exempt from the legislation's flavoring ban.

Similarly, the health groups are telling the public that the legislation is going to allow us to finally address the problem of the addiction of our children to cigarettes. But the truth is that the bill does nothing to address addiction. In fact, it does just the opposite. It institutionalizes addiction. It ensures that nicotine will always be a component of cigarettes, and thus the cigarette companies will be able to continue using nicotine to addict young people and ensure long-time customers.

Third, the health groups are telling the public that the legislation is going to make cigarettes safer. But at the same time, even experts who supported the bill have acknowledged that this is a scam and that the truth is that we have no idea whether cigarettes can even be made safer merely by restricting the levels of or eliminating certain constituents of the smoke.

Fourth, the health groups are telling us that the FDA has meaningful and effective authority to protect the public from the hazards of tobacco products. But the truth is that the FDA has extremely limited authority and that the limits on its powers are in each of the areas where it could otherwise potentially make a serious dent in smoking rates. The groups are also not revealing that the legislation provides unprecedented special protections to Big Tobacco that no other company enjoys.

When the FDA decided yesterday to require a black box warning on Chantix, you can bet that Pfizer was not part of the panel that considered whether or not to impose this warning. But the tobacco companies area afforded the extraordinary gift of being allowed to sit at the table when decisions about the potential regulation of cigarettes are made.

The introduction of Marlboro Blend No. 54 is a chilling reminder that the real work of tobacco control is not going to be accomplished through the political scam that is the FDA tobacco legislation. In fact, the FDA legislation actually makes the real work of tobacco control much more difficult.

What the legislation does is to divert countless resources and substantial attention away from the science-based programs and policies which would actually continue to have an impact on smoking rates. Instead, we will be wasting our time, money, and precious resources on creating a bureaucracy which accomplishes virtually nothing of any substance or meaning.

In the end, the most damaging aspect of the FDA tobacco legislation will not be the legislation itself, but its diversion of attention and resources from the real measures that need to be taken to reduce the demand for cigarettes in the first place.

While the health groups inside the beltway celebrate their political victory, Philip Morris is busy selling full-flavored menthol cigarettes to young people at $2.39 per pack.

How Philip Morris can sleep at night is beyond me. Just thinking about what to do with all those profits that are going to accrue from the coup of this legislation would keep me up at night.

How the health groups can sleep at night, however, is even more mystifying to me.

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