African American Doctors Call Upon President Obama To Ban Menthol-Flavored Cigarettes

unknownI have long been a critic of government bans on lawful products to prevent consumers from making poor health or lifestyle choices, including Michael Bloomberg’s failed effort to ban “Big Gulp” sodas. Now a group of African-American doctors are asking President Obama to ban the sale of menthol-flavored cigarettes because they are too popular with black smokers. We can certainly have a debate over a possible prohibition of tobacco products as inherently dangerous. However, if tobacco use remains lawful to smoke or sell (as I believe it should be), there are serious legal and policy problems with a ban on a product solely because it is too popular with one group.

The African-American Tobacco Control Leadership Council have called on the action from the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) and Dr. Philip Gardiner, council co-chairman, has argued that “Young African-Americans die disproportionately from tobacco-related disease compared to other people in the population.” I do not question the statistic but why not call for a total ban? Even with the elimination of menthol cigarettes (which Gardiner notes “go down easier”), another product is likely to replace those cigarettes as the preferred product. Moreover, if another product has a pronounced popularity with the Asian community, will that product also be banned as we target the most successful products in any given community?

It is certainly true that menthol cigarettes have been flagged (in 2013) by the FDA as a greater risk than conventional cigarettes, but that is due to the fact that many find the taste better. It becomes increasingly absurd for us to ban products that people like while insisting that they have a right to smoke. We continue to spend copious amounts on education and there is evidence that it is working. However, people still enjoy free will in a free country. You are allowed to make bad choices.

If these doctors have been unsuccessful in convincing black smokers to drop this product, they should not turn to the government to simply force their will on other citizens. I honestly commend their efforts and their passion to fight this scourge within the African-American community. However, in the end, the decision rests with consumers.

What do you think?

19 thoughts on “African American Doctors Call Upon President Obama To Ban Menthol-Flavored Cigarettes”

  1. Nicotine is a drug, a drug. If cigarettes were to be introduced today they would be in same class of drugs as Marijuana and with better reason. Nicotine is a highly addictive substance, both physically and psychologically. It’s addictiveness puts paid any discussion of free will. Once hooked the smoker is in for the long run, with multiple attempts to quit if s/he even bothers to kick the habit.

    The other part of the Free Will discussion is that Cigarette companies have a long history of hooking their customers when they are young, very young. How much free will is there in a 10 to 13 year old person, are they even close to making rational decisions? How about a eight or nine year old? By the time a person is legally declared to be rational enough to vote many smokers are eight years into their life-time habit.

    Over and above the discussion of addiction there is the subject of Public Health and the right of the government to use its power to control or eliminate substance that are a threat to public health. Since there is already a anti-smoking program on tap, the government is within its rights to use any tools at its disposal to improve the goals of that program, within reason. Is it within reason, ignoring the extra impact on African-Americans, to eliminate a substance that makes the act of smoking more pleasant. I think so, the act of smoking may be legal but there is no reason that the government to make it more accessible. The government is within its objectives of reducing smoking and thereby reducing the harm to its citizens that smoking causes.

    Let’s now bring up the actual request of some African-American professionals, to whit medical professionals, to have a substance removed from an already hazardous product that has an outsized impact on their community. Please remember that there are plenty of studies linking tobacco products to increased risk of a whole host of diseases. And mind you these diseases have an unfortunate higher impact on African-Americans even when one removes the risks of smoking. It thus becomes incumbent on the government not to add fuel to the fire and if possible remove those substances that cause increased risk.

    Also, please remember that the tobacco companies are not exactly innocents in this discussion. They hid the risk of their products for years. They formulated their products to have the highest possible addictive qualities. They flat out lied about the risk of their products. They fought the government tooth and nail even after the Surgeon General reported how bad their product was. The addition of menthol flavoring is just one more example, among many, of tobacco companies deliberately trying to hook people into an addiction and to keep them hooked. They are like any other seedy pusher on a street corner doing every dirty trick in the book to hook their marks into a life-long dependance. The only difference is they get to do the dirty deed in really nice corporate offices.

    The government regulates hundreds of thousands of dangerous and toxic substance, many from cradle to grave. It also regulate many consumer products who dangerous to one specific group, think toys. By your reasoning just because a toy manufacture produces a product that is hazardous because of its lead paint to children, the government has no right to intervene and ban that toy from production or importation. After all children are a specific group, am I right? Nor should the regulate the use of opioid drugs, because, hell people in pain are a specific group as well, and after all opioid drugs are legal as much as cigarettes are. Or maybe, just maybe the government does have the right to find a place between an absolute laissez faire regulator regime and outright banning of a product. Removing Menthol from cigarettes seems to me to a fair enough middle ground

  2. Clove cigarettes already banned in US 2009 I think. And this ban on clove products not all due to public health outcry, but because of a WTO dispute. Years ago I would enjoy an occasional pack of Djarum, and would sometimes stop at Nat Sherman’s in NYC to get their house brand called Touch of Clove. Both gone from the states unless you can find some Djarum stashed under the counter of a bodega somewhere. Can be had online but I think buying them puts you in a grey area. Not sure.

    Point is, they’ve already banned by product type, nothing stopping the gov’t from going further to bar the menthols. If they do, it will just foster an overseas and possibly even a Canadian black market.

    And here’s a question – Indian reservations in the US manufacture and sell their own brands including menthols. Could they ban the Native Americans from manufacturing and selling on their own lands? Having already seen the NYS Thruway shut down due to NYS threatening to impose salestax on Reservation cigs, I wonder what this would do.

    I say leave the menthols alone. While it may seem like a great idea, it’s in effect a Prohibition and people who want the product that badly will just find a way around things.

    No longer a smoker, but I know how people feel abut their cigs.

  3. Remember Prohibition?

    “What experience and history teaches us is that people and governments have never learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it.” – Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.

    Menthol cigs today, guns tomorrow. Hey, docs! This is a Hospital Zone. Keep up this nonsense, and you’ll need one.

    [full disclosure: I do not use tobacco in any form]

  4. “Dumb smoker”. Those words are repeats. Yeah. All you smokers out there are dumb as can be. You commit suicide on a daily routine. You impose your friggin smoke on others. You are so dumb that you need to just use a gun. Guns are quicker. Stop subjecting the rest of us to your smoke.

    1. Pietro – studies have shown that it is harder to stop smoking than stop using heroin. It is an addiction that is legal. The initial choice to smoke may have been dumb, but most of us started in our teens, after watching our role models on movies and TV smoke. They looked cool. We wanted to look cool, too.

  5. Does anyone remember the two-step wherein black politicians pushed for heightened penalties for possession and sale of crack cocaine in year x and then a different set of black politicians complained in year x + 15 that treating possession and sale of crack more severely than that for powdered cocaine was indicative of raaaaacism?

    I think I’d politely thank the black doctors for their input, then ignore what they say.

  6. A better approach would be to raise the age that one can purchase and possess tobacco to 21. I’m sure a lot of smokers started as teens and once hooked on nicotine, it is extremely difficult to quit. My brother (white male) started smoking Marlboros at 17. That was 40 years ago. Back then he purchased them in a vending machine at a local hamburger joint. All the kids did that. Tobacco companies market Marlboros to white men, Virginia Slims to white women, Camels to college kids, Kools and Newports to blacks, and so forth. But the goal should be to prevent or at least reduce the smoking rate, because the long-term health devastation is “equal opportunity.”

  7. Imagine that our next revolution may be as a result of “The Menthol Tax”. The Tea Act of 1773 was the final straw that led to the Boston Tea Party. Asset Forfeiture hasn’t done it, IRS targeting of groups the government doesn’t like hasn’t done it, Eminent Domain hasn’t done it. This list of grievances is growing, just as they did in the run up to 1776. What will be the final straw?

    1. Olly – the Tea Act affected everyone. Right now we don’t have an act that affects us all. Obamacare come closest.

      1. That’s the problem Paul, no one pay’s attention unless this massive bureaucracy’s weight directly affects them. The “final straw” of the Tea Act wasn’t about whether all or a few of the people drank tea. It was about British government trying to regain control of a colony after nearly a century of salutary neglect.

        The impact of this proposal regarding menthol cigarettes will appear to many as a good policy due to the harmful nature of tobacco products. What they will fail to recognize is they are giving away more of their natural right to pursue happiness.

  8. Autumn, Kools have been a popular brand for black people going back to the 60’s. In the 70’s I was working in black neighborhoods in KC. If not Kool, Newports were the brand. The great character in The Wire, Omar, smoked Newport, also menthol. I smoked Marlboro back then which was the consummate w/m cig. For a stretch in the 70’s/80’s, many black people would open their Kool packs from the bottom. It was just a way to be They used to make Kool unfiltered menthol. Maybe still do? Those had a kick!

    Of course this is a stupid request. The irony of the request being made to a black prez who smokes menthol is precious.

    1. Nick – I have smoked menthols as non-filtered cigarettes. The menthol is in the tobacco. It doesn’t make it taste any better. However, I started on Lucky Strikes. Now that is a man’s cigarette. No one I knew would be caught dead smoking a filtered cigarette.

  9. We all know that smoking is not a healthy practice. Will this be another case of the government mandating on us what’s good and bad? I quit smoking back in 1982. I don’t need the government to mandate any of my life decisions. There I go again wanting to make my own decisions.

  10. As a former smoker of menthols I can tell you they do taste better and cost the same. However, I am against this or any other President getting in the way of tobacco smoking.

  11. Members of the negro underclass use nicotine for the same reasons that they use alcohol and illegal drugs, namely that their normal states of consciousness are extremely unpleasant and states of consciousness altered by any drug are preferable.

    If we would allow the descendants of the slaves wrongly freed in that most egregious excess of political correctness, the abolition of slavery to have access to the American dream of upward social mobility their rate of nicotine use would drop.

    1. Am I reading you correctly? We don’t allow descendants of slaves access to the American dream of upward social mobility?

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