Exemption for additive troubles many critics
Exemption for additive troubles many critics
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."
Studies report that nearly three out of four black smokers prefer Menthol brands, compaRed to three of 10 white smokers, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
A troubling development
Still, the congressional exemption for Menthol in new regulations troubles health professionals.
"We see this as a huge issue," said Jan Roberts, a registeRed nurse who runs the Genesee County Asthma Network, in Flint. "It certainly seems like the tobacco industry has a pretty strong hold on our community."
The Congressional Black Caucus, whose members represent many of the densely populated and largely black urban centers where Menthol Cigarettes are most popular, is split on the Menthol question as well.
Ann Goldon, health education coordinator for the Genesee County Health Department, said the high levels of smoking in her county are probably influenced by economic stress in a community that has lost tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs in the past 25 years.
"But look at the marketing campaigns. They seem to be targeting the African-American community," she said.
Along major commercial strips in black neighborhoods in Flint, the signs on liquor and convenience stores promote "Newport Pleasure!" "Kool" and other Menthol brands. At a north side convenience store, More than 80 percent of the cigarette sales are Menthol, said Nagibe Abu Eiea, the store's manager.
"I smoke them because they are the coolest," said bus driver Lyncha Jones.
A recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health charged that tobacco companies attracted new and younger smokers by promoting Cigarettes with lower Menthol levels.
A 2002 report, "The African Americanization of Menthol cigarette use in the United States," found that tobacco companies nearly doubled their market share in the African-American community from the early 1960s through the late 1970s. Part of the campaign, the report said, was built on a perception that Menthols are safer to smoke than non-Menthol brands.
Marcellas Williams said she used to smoke a pack of Newports every day, when she was under More stress. She doesn't buy the claim that cigarette companies are targeting blacks.
Now Williams is down to about a pack every two weeks. "It just gives you the feeling you need," Williams said.