Should menthol cigarettes be banned? From a public health standpoint, shit yea. It would be best for all of us if the only cigarettes available were unattractively packaged, harsh-tasting, and unwieldy. As a Kool smoker, though, I have mixed feelings. You know who else does? Members of the Congressional Black Caucus who receive bundles of cash from the tobacco industry! The fact that "75 percent of black smokers choose mentholated brands" means that the current battle over whether or not to ban them goes to issues even deeper than their sweet, sweet mentholated taste. Things at stake: billions of dollars in revenue, hundreds of millions in marketing campaigns, racial tension, and how happy cigarette companies are to kill you in exchange for money! The current bill in Congress would ban "flavored" cigarettes, but exempt menthols. The Black Caucus is an important player because they stand for the black community—the most enthusiastic consumers of menthols—and they've been wooed big time by tobacco companies.
Philip Morris over the years has been one of the biggest contributors to the caucus's nonprofit Congressional Black Caucus Foundation. That financial support, in some years exceeding $250,000, and lesser amounts at times from other cigarette makers, has been the reason some critics perceived an alliance between big tobacco and African-American members of Congress, some of whom were willing to help fend off antitobacco efforts. Among them, some critics have said, was Charles B. Rangel of New York. Although he supported some antitobacco initiatives, until the last few years Mr. Rangel staunchly opposed federal tobacco tax increases. He has said his stand was based on the disproportionate effect of excise taxes on the poor, not the thousands of dollars he received in tobacco industry political action committee donations.Way to use logic in order to help your constituents into an early grave, Charlie Rangel! But a lot of CBC members are in fact in favor of banning menthol, many because of the fact that it disproportionately kills black people. Tobacco companies that currently support the bill, though, would probably oppose it if menthols got added. It looks like menthols will stay legal, for now. Awesome for the black community as well as race car drivers! [NYT]