Menthol cigarettes: Is this racist?

 

African Americans are more likely to die from the three leading causes of tobacco-related death

 

I’ve got a good one for the “Is it Racist?” segment on the popular Tosh.0 show on Comedy Central. How about the tobacco industry’s marketing of menthol cigarettes to African Americans, and the industry’s bulldog lobbying to protect selling menthol cigarettes to blacks while other tobacco flavorings and marketing ploys are being banned?

Here’s what we know about menthol cigarettes: The tobacco industry targets African Americans with menthol brands. African American smokers are much more likely to smoke menthols than whites – 83 percent to 24 percent. Menthols are more addictive and harder to quit than non-menthols; African-American menthol smokers have a much harder time quitting than African American non-menthol smokers. African Americans are more likely to die from the three leading causes of smoking-related death – coronary heart disease, stroke and lung cancer. Researchers say that menthol might be the reason.

According to Kunal Gandhi, a researcher in the division of addiction psychiatry at the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey:

“We previously found that menthol cigarette smokers take in more nicotine and carbon monoxide per cigarette… Menthol masks the harshness of the nicotine and toxins, affects the way the cigarette is smoked and makes it more deadly and addictive.”

 

Big Tobacco targeted menthols at African Americans. Now, the industry is fighting to keep that market share -- at a deadly cost.

 

But wait, there’s more: When Congress turned over tobacco to FDA control a couple of years back, menthol was exempted, thanks to the power of the tobacco lobby. Congress banned some flavorings for tobacco, but they were flavorings that the industry wasn’t really using. Today, the FDA is re-considering banning menthol, and the tobacco industry is once again fighting like crazy to protect it, and it looks again like it might succeed.

So, is menthol racist? Is the tobacco industry’s bitter fight to preserve menthol racist, after it successfully targeted menthol to African Americans and got about 80 percent of black smokers addicted to it, and all the while menthols are harder to quit and likely more deadly? Does that sound racist to you? And what about Congress’ protection of menthol cigarettes? Is that racist?

Well, at least we know one thing that isn’t racist: The tobacco industry’s creation of smokeless, flavored tobacco pellets that look like candy and are poisoning about 600 kids each year who think they are candy, according to an MSNBC story. On this one, it appears that the industry is poisoning all children equally.

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