A group of U.S. Senators earlier this week lambasted electronic cigarettes and their flavorings, calling them a gateway to cigarette use and proclaiming themselves public health champions who will do what is necessary to protect kids from cigarette addiction.
For example, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) boasted: "This scientific report provides conclusive evidence that the use of
e-cigarettes among our nation’s kids is both on the rise and closely
linked to the deadly use of cigarettes. This information is a call to
action – tobacco companies continue to find new ways to target America’s
young people and we need to actively prevent it. I commend the Centers
for Disease Control for shedding light on this important issue, and look
forward to working with my colleagues to continue work to curb tobacco
use amongst our kids. With the right commitment we can spare future
generations of young people from this deadly epidemic."
At the same time, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids jumped on the new CDC data and demanded instant action by the FDA to stop the marketing of these flavored products to children, complaining that "e-cigarettes are sold in an assortment of sweet, kid-friendly flavors including “vivid vanilla,” “cherry crush” and chocolate." The Campaign then boldly called for the federal and state governments "to take action to protect our kids."
The Rest of the Story
The rest of the story is that these politicians as well as the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids are full of baloney. While these politicians and anti-smoking groups are boasting about how committed they are to protect kids from a flavored product that might, through a tortuous pathway, eventually lead to cigarette smoking, these very same politicians and groups opposed protecting kids from addiction to cigarettes by banning the very flavored cigarettes that youth are actually smoking in huge numbers.
Yes, it is sadly true that Senator Durbin, along with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, led efforts to block the regulation of menthol cigarettes at the same time that Congress was banning every other cigarette flavor under the sun. Ironically, every one of these flavors except menthol was not actually smoked by youth. But menthol cigarettes were the flavor of choice among youth smokers.
Why did Senator Durbin and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids oppose a ban on menthol cigarettes? Very simple: Because a menthol ban would have actually made a dent in cigarette sales. Unlike the enacted ban on cherry cigarettes which these groups endorsed, a ban on menthol cigarettes would actually have reduced youth smoking substantially.
So Senator Durbin and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and all of their friends in Congress who pretended to stand up against Big Tobacco actually did just the opposite: they fought the tobacco companies only to the point where it would have actually started hurting these corporations in the pocket book and thereby improving the public's health. It was an act of supreme hypocrisy and immense political cowardice.
While Durbin and the Campaign were busy flexing their muscles and touting their concern for kids, another piece of relevant data came out earlier this week. A study published in the journal Tobacco Control reported that 57% of youth smokers smoke menthol cigarettes and that menthol cigarettes are much more popular among youth smokers than among adults.
The report noted that while the smoking of non-menthol cigarettes among youth has declined, rates of menthol smoking have remained high and constant. The researchers concluded that the continued marketing of menthol cigarettes - facilitated by none other than Senator Durbin and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids - has undermined progress in reducing youth smoking, writing that "Progress in reducing youth smoking has likely been attenuated by the sale and marketing of mentholated cigarettes, including emerging varieties of established youth brands."
Thus, instead of being champions for the public's health, firm opponents of Big Tobacco, and protectors of youth from cigarette addiction, Senator Durbin and friends along with the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and its friends have actually been the cause of failure to make as much progress in reducing youth smoking. In other words, they are not public health champions, but hypocrites.
To make matters much worse, in caving in to Big Tobacco and protecting cigarette sales to youth, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids advanced the racist and scientifically unsupported "justification" that African American smokers would turn to contraband. In fact, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids advanced this argument before Lorillard did. In fact, Lorillard didn't have to make the argument because the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids already had. And it was this argument which the Campaign used to block an amendment which would have removed the menthol exemption.
The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids actually did Lorillard's dirty work for it. Part of its lobbying expenditures really should have been reported under Lorillard.
It is bad enough that politicians and a major tobacco control group have sold out the health of America's children, and in particular - African-American smokers - in order to protect the profits of tobacco companies. But seeing these same politicians and groups now pretend that protecting kids from addiction to flavored addictive products is their principled priority is too much for this stomach to handle.