The New York Times on Sunday examined how smokers are left in the middle of "this maelstrom of debate" on whether menthol-flavored cigarettes should be included in the legislation that would allow FDA to ban flavored additives (Navarro, New York Times, 8/3).

The House last week by a veto-proof 326-102 vote approved legislation (HR 1108) that would give FDA the authority to regulate tobacco products. The measure, introduced by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), would allow FDA to ban flavored additives, with an exemption for menthol flavoring. Some black anti-smoking advocates criticized the exemption, noting that many black smokers use mentholated cigarettes. The National African American Tobacco Prevention Network withdrew its support for the bill because of the menthol exemption. Seventy-five percent of black smokers use mentholated tobacco products. Menthol brands account for about 28% of the $70 billion U.S. cigarette market.

It is thought that menthol and other additives might mask the harshness of tobacco, which could make it easier for teenagers to begin smoking. Researchers also have questioned whether menthol plays a role in disproportionate rates of cancer related to smoking among blacks. A recent study from Harvard University found that some cigarette makers intentionally "manipulated menthol levels to attract young people" (Kaiser Health Disparities Report, 7/31).

The Times reports that menthol cigarettes have historically been heavily marketed in black communities and that blacks have disproportionately higher rates of death and disease related to smoking, according to the Times. According to the Times, some smokers "reject such wholesale interference with personal choices" and others "believe that having their menthol cigarettes snatched away may be just what they need to end their habit."

The Times notes that it "may take more than a ban -- or the health warnings or the $5 pack -- to stop some smokers." Justine Love -- a 54-year-old black Washington, D.C., radio personality who smoked menthol cigarettes for 30 years and now gives testimonials and public service announcements on her radio station -- said, "This is a very personal decision, and you don't need anybody to tell you what you can or can't do." She adds, "I don't say, 'You should stop smoking.' I give encouragement to quit. I tell them I saved $139 in the first month" (New York Times, 8/3).

Reprinted with kind permission from kaisernetwork. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report, search the archives, or sign up for email delivery at kaisernetwork/dailyreports/healthpolicy. The Kaiser Daily Health Policy Report is published for kaisernetwork, a free service of The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

© 2008 Advisory Board Company and Kaiser Family Foundation. All rights reserved.

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