Tuesday, February 08, 2011

More Hypocrisy: Washington Anti-Smoking Groups Supporting Bill that Would Ban Menthol Cigarillos, But Allow Menthol Cigarettes

According to the thinking of anti-smoking advocates in Washington state, it is unacceptable for tobacco companies to sell a menthol-flavored cigarillo because such a product might lead youth to a lifetime of addiction; however, it is perfectly acceptable for tobacco companies to sell menthol-flavored cigarettes.

Washington legislators have introduced, and anti-smoking groups are supporting, legislation which would ban the sale of menthol cigarillos in Washington but continue to allow the sale of menthol cigarettes.

The reason for the legislation? According to an article in the Seattle Times, flavored cigarillos must be banned because they are a "gateway to long-term tobacco use."

According to the article: "Public-health officials maintained that the brightly colored, flavored products start teens down a dark road to lifetime nicotine addiction. ... Dr. David Fleming, director of Public Health — Seattle & King County, said the products — such as Swisher Sweets cigarillos in peach, white grape and strawberry flavors — are essentially a 'gateway to long-term tobacco use.'"

The bill - House Bill 1246 - would ban all flavored tobacco products, including cigars, cigarillos, and smokeless tobacco, but with the exception of cigarettes.

The Rest of the Story

In the ultimate example of the hypocrisy of anti-smoking advocates who are supporting this legislation, the bill first bans all flavored tobacco products. Then, in small print at the end of the bill, it defines tobacco products as all tobacco-containing products with the exception of cigarettes.

The fact that this bill needs to go to the ridiculous extreme of defining a cigarette as not being a tobacco product tells you everything you need to know about how hypocritical the bill's supporters are.

Somehow, it is unacceptable to sell flavored cigarillos - despite the very low prevalence of their use among youth - because they may lead to lifetime addiction to tobacco products, but it is entirely acceptable to sell flavored (menthol) cigarettes which are introducing literally thousands of Washington youth to a lifetime of addiction to cigarettes.

This is the first time I have ever seen cigarettes defined as not being tobacco products. It defies common sense. But that defiance of common sense shows the extremes necessary to make this bill sound like a coherent approach to tobacco control.

The rest of the story is that the supporters of this legislation are looking for an easy political victory that will make them feel and look good, but without having to actually stand up to the tobacco industry and without having to actually craft a tobacco control strategy that will lead to substantial reductions in tobacco use and addiction.

It is a great example of hypocrisy in the anti-smoking movement. It is also a great example of political cowardice.

I hope not only that the bill goes to defeat, but that the legislation is publicly exposed for its political, rather than purely public health objectives. Hopefully this column will start that process.

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