The administration’s proposal to ban mint, fruit, dessert and virtually all other flavors in e-cigarette cartridges contains a glaring racist loophole, charges public interest law professor John Banzhaf, who fought with former-HHS Secretary Louis W. Sullivan against attempts to spare menthol cigarettes in earlier proposals because it is overwhelmingly used by African Americans.
Banzhaf worked with Sullivan, who was also the Founding Dean of the Morehouse School of Medicine, and six other former health secretaries, in opposing an earlier proposal to exempt menthol cigarettes from proposed legislation.
At the time, former secretary Joseph A. Califano Jr. blasted the exemption for menthol, saying it was “clearly putting black children in the back of the bus.” An estimated 80% of African-American teenage smokers choose menthol brands, says Banzhaf.
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That’s why this lethal “racist” loophole is being condemned by the Congressional Black Caucus, the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network, many former HHS Secretaries, and by Action on Smoking and Health (ASH): “the bill caves to the financial interests of tobacco companies and discriminates against African Americans-the segment of our population at greatest risk for the killing and crippling smoking-related diseases.
It sends a message that African American youngsters are valued less than white youngsters.”
Menthol and African Americans
Other organizations noted: “If we’re banning things such as clove and peppermint, then we should ban menthol, . . . “If it doesn’t happen, this bill will be discriminatory against African-Americans.”
History now seems to be repeating itself with efforts to target black youngsters, says Banzhaf, noting an exhibit by the San Francisco Public Library entitled “Tobacco Industry’s [History of] Targeting of the Black Community; From Chattel Slavery to Menthol Slavery.”
With all the emphasis and concern about black youngsters being killed by police, the FDA is ignoring and even exacerbating a much more serious problem, suggests Banzhaf.
For example, the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council has complained: “For every black man murdered, there are 6-8 dying of tobacco diseases. We can’t wait until what’s happening with police brutality is solved to address thousands dying from cigarettes.”
Indeed, notes Banzhaf, the danger of e-cigarettes extends far beyond those deaths and severe lung damage recently caused by a variety of additives; teens who use e-cigarettes easily become addicted and move on to the smoking of tobacco cigarettes with a 50% chance of killing the user.
Similar concerns were echoed by the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network which protested that ‘there is a social injustice in the predatory marketing and death related to menthol in our community.”
Indeed, it’s nothing less than institutional racism, declares Natasha Phelps, Staff Attorney/Lead Minnesota Policy, Public Health Law Center: “The tobacco industry has long taken advantage of institutional racism. The scale of the problem is so great that we identify menthol as our commercial tobacco team’s top priority.”