Why do mentholated cigarettes still exist?

A few weeks ago, a group of black doctors urged federal officials to ban the sale of menthol-flavored cigarettes because of its high usage in black communities. In 2013, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) found mentholated cigarettes pose a significant public health risk, as younger people are more likely to start smoking menthol cigarettes, and menthol smokers have a harder time quitting.

They’re right. It is time for the FDA to ban mentholated cigarettes. Menthol cigarettes are used by 83 percent of black smokers, 51 percent of Asian smokers, and 47 percent of Latino smokers. Compared to only 24 percent of white smokers. Smoking is associated with increased risk of developing a slew of conditions — including heart disease, certain forms of cancer, diabetes, and stroke. For people of color, many of these conditions are more common, diagnosed later, and result in worse outcomes.

It’s long overdue. Especially considering, in 2009 the FDA banned cigarettes with characterizing fruit, candy, and clove flavors, which would appeal to children.

So, if the FDA has the power and the teeth to ban certain types of
tobacco products, why don’t they?

The answer has less to do with public health and more to do with politics. To shed some light on why the government is seemingly dragging its feet, I’ll give my top reasons why we have yet to see a mentholated cigarette ban.

Big tobacco helps keep the government moving. Sort of.
While a work of fiction, the 1994 book and 2005 film of the same name, Thank You for Smoking, is a somewhat accurate representation of lobbyists and the politicians that love them. Lobbyists — who are funded by trade organizations like “big tobacco” — spend day and night wooing politicians with steak dinners and money. In turn, those politicians make promises to create or block legislation that is favorable to the lobbying firm.

Between 2005 and 2015, tobacco lobbying firms spent approximately $280 million lobbying Congress and federal agencies, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In 2014, Lorillard Inc., makers of Newport cigarettes, donated about $399,500 to candidates in the mid-term election. While the majority went to Republicans, the tobacco company also gave to 25 members of the House — 23 black representatives and two white members of Congress. At that time, the FDA had a renewed debate of whether to ban mentholated cigarettes, even requesting public comment.

In 2015, Lorillard was acquired by Reynold’s American, maker of Pall Mall, Doral, and American Spirit, among others.

CREAM: Cash Rules Everything Around Me
Money makes the world go round. You learn that at a pretty young age. So it makes sense that money has a lot to do with why mentholated cigarettes are still around.

A 2012 study published in the American Journal of Public Health, found that a ban on menthol cigarettes would likely cause more smokers to quit.

The study, which surveyed 2649 never, former, and current smokers, showed communities with the highest prevalence of menthol cigarette use, most supported a ban. A quarter of smokers in those communities said if menthols were ban they would try to quit. If you’re a pack-a-day smoker in New York, where I live, that means $4,700 that won’t be spent — at least not on cigarettes. That’s not just bad news for the cigarette companies. In New York, almost half of cigarette costs go to an excise tax. So, the city and state would lose $2,100 a year with the loss of every pack-a-day smoker.

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