Congressional Black Caucus Urges Lawmakers To Include Menthol Restriction in Tobacco Legislation
The Congressional Black Caucus is calling on lawmakers to add restrictions on menthol cigarettes to legislation (HR 1108, S 625) that would give FDA the authority to regulate tobacco and outlaw most flavor additives, the New York Times reports (Saul, New York Times, 7/1). Menthol flavoring was left out of the bill as a concession to the tobacco industry, without which the bill would not have a chance of passing. Three out of four black smokers use menthol-flavored cigarettes. Like other additives, menthol, which is derived from mint and is available in synthetic form, can help mask the harsh taste of tobacco. The additive is the most widely used flavoring in cigarettes (Kaiser Health Disparities Report, 6/18).
Virgin Islands Rep. Donna Christensen (D), head of the black caucus' health task force, said the caucus is working with Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the sponsor of the House bill, to address concerns about menthol. In an e-mail, she wrote, "We are very aware and gravely concerned about the disproportionate incidence of lung cancer in the African-American community and, along with so many minority health experts, have long been concerned about the role menthol may play."
Christensen did not disclose the exact language of any proposed changes to the legislation, but she said the caucus is working to strengthen provisions on research and reporting about menthol and to allow FDA to ban menthol. Lorillard, the cigarette company that would stand to lose the most from a menthol ban, on June 22 sent e-mails to customers encouraging them to contact their congressional representatives "and tell them to oppose any amendment to ban menthol cigarettes." Michael Robinson, a spokesperson for Lorillard, said, "We think it's important that consumers know what's going on in Washington and have an opportunity to make their voices heard" (New York Times, 7/1).