Pop Culture
Jun 11, 2008, 06:24AM

Government Looking To Ban Clove Cigarettes, Prententious College Freshmen Concerned

The proposed Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act would give the FDA broad new powers to regulate cigarettes, including banning flavored cigarettes. All flavors, that is, except menthol, which in addition to being potentially racist is the only flavor that industry leader Phillip Morris has a vested interest in. All of the complicated special interests involved make us think that maybe the government should just keep their hands off smokers.

For years I've argued that a bill authorizing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to regulate tobacco products is bad for consumers. I've said the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which Congress is once again considering, would stifle competition, raise prices, reduce variety, block the flow of potentially lifesaving information, and impede the introduction and promotion of safer tobacco products.

Such arguments have attracted remarkably little attention, given that consumer protection is the main rationale for FDA regulation. Now I realize my mistake: I should have said the bill was racist.

It may have had something to do with a May 13 New York Times story headlined Cigarette Bill Treats Menthol With Leniency, which reported that "some public health experts are questioning why menthol, the most widely used cigarette flavoring and the most popular cigarette choice of African-American smokers, is receiving special protection as Congress tries to regulate tobacco for the first time." The front-page article quoted William S. Robinson, head of the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network, who explained that his organization and other anti-smoking groups had gone along with the menthol exemption because it was necessary to placate Philip Morris, the only major cigarette maker supporting the bill.

Philip Morris sells a lot of menthol cigarettes, but the flavors forbidden by the bill are offered only by its competitors. The bill's flavoritism is of a piece with its general tendency to help the industry leader maintain its market dominance.

  • Sullum is one of the country's best writers. This is the kind of article that belongs in The New York Times instead of the glib trash from Gail Collins, Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich.

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