Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Anti-Smoking Groups Called Out Publicly for Their Lies on Flavored Cigarette Ban

In a column published Sunday in the Chicago Tribune, Steve Chapman calls out the anti-smoking groups, federal spokespersons and politicians who have told the public that the flavored cigarette ban in the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act will break the cycle of addiction among youths and protect them from becoming prey to the tobacco industry's products.

Not so, argues Chapman. The flavored cigarette ban doesn't affect a single Big Tobacco product and affects less than 0.2% of the overall market, he notes, and therefore, it is deceptive, if not a lie, to tell the public that flavored cigarettes are a gateway to regular smoking (as the FDA Commissioner stated) and that the flavored cigarette ban will therefore break the cycle of addiction among youths.

Chapman argues: "At least since 1994, when seven tobacco executives testified before Congress that they didn't think cigarettes were addictive, the public has not put great trust in those who sell carcinogens for a living. What Americans may not realize is that they also shouldn't believe the people who are supposed to protect us from tobacco. When it comes to cigarettes, the federal government can blow smoke with the best of them."

"That became clear the other day, when the Food and Drug Administration announced it was prohibiting the sale of cigarettes with candy or fruit flavors. "These flavored cigarettes are a gateway for many children and young adults to become regular smokers," said Commissioner Margaret Hamburg. The ban, said Howard Koh, an assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services, "will break that cycle [of addiction] for the more than 3,600 young people who start smoking daily."

"Sure it will. And I'm Megan Fox. When it comes to escorting kids into addiction, such cigarettes are more like the eye of a needle than a gateway. You would never know from the government's pronouncements that the nation's three major tobacco companies -- R.J. Reynolds, Philip Morris and Lorillard -- don't even make them. Notorious lines like Warm Winter Toffee and Winter Mocha Mint were removed from the market years ago. The only flavor the major producers use anymore is menthol, which happens to be one the FDA chose not to ban. Only a few small companies still offer the sort of flavors targeted by the government. According to one maker, Kretek International, these cigarettes account for less than two-tenths of 1 percent of all U.S. sales."

"When I asked an FDA spokesperson what portion of the cigarettes smoked by teens are flavored, she told me the agency doesn't know. So how does it know they serve as "a gateway for many children"? How does it know that banning them will have any effect on the number of new tobacco addicts? Actually, it doesn't. In any case, the number of kids using these products can't be very large. Michael Siegel, a physician and public health professor at Boston University, says that 87 percent of all high school smokers choose Marlboro, Camel or Newport, which don't come in tutti-frutti flavors. No surprise there. Siegel says that teenagers smoke because they want to seem older. But smoking something that tastes like bubble gum sends the opposite signal. Even when flavored cigarettes were more widely available, the great majority of adolescent smokers found them about as appealing as a Raffi concert."

The Rest of the Story

As I have long argued, the FDA tobacco law is a scam - designed to make it look like the health groups and federal government, along with Philip Morris, are doing something to protect kids from tobacco addiction when in fact the law does nothing of the sort. The flavored cigarette ban gets rid of a few minor brands which are hardly used by any youths, while exempting the one flavoring that is actually being used by millions of young people.

The rest of the story is that the health groups decided to sell out the health of African Americans by using menthol as a bargaining chip to secure Philip Morris' support for the legislation, which was deemed essential to the bill's passage. The menthol exemption was necessary because unlike the pineapple, banana, and cherry cigarettes which the law prohibits, people actually smoke menthol cigarettes so the financial interests of Big Tobacco depend on the continued sale of these products.

We wouldn't want to do anything to hurt Big Tobacco sales, would we? Especially when we now depend upon the continued sale of their products for fund health care for our nation's poor children. We wouldn't want to do anything that could actually make a significant dent in cigarette sales, would we? But as long as we can tell our constituents that we are winning the battle against Big Tobacco, we can collect our donations and fund ourselves, so what does it matter if we aren't actually protecting the public's health?

I'm glad that people are starting to take notice of this deception. Chapman's column will help educate the public about the truth behind the FDA tobacco law. Eventually, I believe it will be well-recognized that the FDA law surpasses the 1970 Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act as the worst public health legislation ever enacted by Congress.

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