AMA Joins Law Suit Targeting “Menthol Slavery”; Legal Action Seeks to Finally Close “Lethal Racist Loophole”
WASHINGTON, D.C. (September 4, 2020) - The American Medical Association [AMA] has added its huge fire power to a law suit brought by two antismoking organizations to force the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] to finally ban the sale of cigarettes flavored with menthol because they have a special appeal to - and help addict - African American children.
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Indeed, if menthol had been banned along with all other cigarette flavors ten years ago, some 17,000 premature Black deaths would have been prevented, and half a million African Americans would not have started smoking, notes public interest law professor John Banzhaf.
The Tobacco Industry's Targeting Of The Black Community; From Chattel Slavery to Menthol Slavery
Banzhaf, known as "The Man Behind the Ban on Cigarette Commercials," founded Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) which has been fighting what the San Francisco Public Library called "Tobacco Industry's [History of] Targeting of the Black Community; From Chattel Slavery to Menthol Slavery" for dozens of years. The other plaintiff is the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council [AATCLC].
In 2009, the federal Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act [FSPTCA] created what has been called the "menthol loophole" when it banned all other flavorings from cigarettes. But it gave the FDA the power to add menthol to the ban, and an FDA Advisory Committee recommended such a ban in 2011.
The FSPTCA thus contained a lethal racist loophole just waiting to be closed by the FDA, charges professor Banzhaf, who fought with former-HHS Secretary Louis W. Sullivan against attempts to spare menthol cigarettes because they are 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.
The Lethal Racist Loophole
That's why this lethal "racist" loophole has been condemned by the Congressional Black Caucus, the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network, many former HHS Secretaries, and by 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."
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."
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, AATCLC 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."
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."
Banzhaf, who has been called "The Law Professor Who Masterminded Litigation Against the Tobacco Industry," and "a Driving Force Behind the Lawsuits That Have Cost Tobacco Companies Billions of Dollars," argues that this legal action is a small step towards achieving Health Equity, a concern dramatized by the recent revelation that African Americans are dying at a far higher rate of COVID-19 than other segments of the population.
A copy of the law suit may be found at: http://banzhaf.net/MentholLawSuit.pdf