Wednesday, August 13, 2008
5814: Targeting Blacks With Menthol Is Not Kool.
From The Chicago Tribune…
Blacks seen as targets of menthol
Exemption for additive troubles many critics
By Tim Jones | Chicago Tribune correspondent
FLINT, Mich.—Eighty years after a man named Lloyd “Spud” Hughes, as legend has it, accidentally mixed his tobacco with menthol crystals, Congress is fighting over whether to ban these popular flavored cigarettes.
Mentholated cigarettes started out in the 1920s with such names as Spud, Listerine, the Original Eucalyptus Smoke and Snowball. Today they’re sold as Newport, Kool and Marlboro Menthol, the smokes of choice among the black community.
Critics charge they are products designed specifically to lure young blacks into a lifetime of tobacco use.
While a growing number of states and cities, including Chicago, have moved to ban smoking in workplaces, restaurants and entertainment sites, and Congress is weighing a ban on flavored cigarettes, the issue of what, if anything, should be done about menthols has proved complicated for political Washington—and for smokers.
Billy Perry of Chicago said he’s been smoking Newports for 30 years. “It has a better taste and less of the effects of harshness,” Perry said.
But Perry said there is “not a shadow of a doubt that blacks are being targeted” by cigarette marketing campaigns.
For her part, Twaynis Royal, a Newport smoker who is a student at Chicago’s Robert Morris College, said cigarette firms have identified their market and are going after it. Royal, who is 25, said she started smoking Newports as a teenager, because that was what her parents smoked.
“Newport realizes their database is black people and they do the targeting,” Royal said.
‘Dedicated effort’ seen
A ban, though, looks like a political step too far for Congress. The House last month approved a measure that would authorize the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products and to ban flavored additives. Menthol flavoring, however, was exempted in the bill; defenders of that loophole argue it is a necessary concession to get the bill through the Senate.
The bill passed the House last month 326-102, but the menthol exemption was part of the negotiations to get enough votes to pass the bill. Some House members wanted to protect tobacco farmers, and others objected to the government having any role in the regulation of tobacco. One tobacco company, Philip Morris USA, agreed to support the measure, but only with the menthol exemption and other language that would prevent the government from ordering a ban on tobacco products.
Menthol critics point to studies that claim young blacks, who as a group are much more likely than whites to smoke menthols, have been targeted by marketing programs of cigarette manufacturers. Tobacco companies have forcefully denied targeting young people and are lobbying against any ban on menthols, which make up about a quarter of all cigarette sales.
“I think they should be banned,” said Floyd Clack, a former state representative in Michigan and lifelong resident of industrial and majority black Flint, where an estimated 36 percent of adults smoke, according to a 2007 study.
“It’s similar to other things in urban areas—there’s a dedicated effort to sell them to minorities,” Clack said. “Some things just shouldn’t happen.”
[Read the full story here.]