Covering Cinema From All Across The African Diaspora

The Menthol Exemption

Sounds like a movie doesn't it? The Menthol Exemption (cue overly dramatic staccato score here)!

The story, as I understand it, goes... Congress wants to pass new legislation that bans so-called "flavored" cigarettes, since they supposedly mask the true harshness of inhaled nicotine smoke, making the habit easier to pick up by young'uns. However, big tobacco wants an exemption to this yet-to-be passed law that excludes menthol cigarettes from said list of flavored cigarettes, even though they clearly fall under that umbrella.

Why? Well, apparently, menthols make up some 28 percent of the annual $70 billion American cigarette market - or roughly $20 billion, which is a lot of money for these cigarette companies, and we all know how crucial maximizing profit is in this capitalist economy.

I'm still trying to make sense of the fact that Americans spend $70 billion on cigarettes every year! My goodness!

Anyway... continuing on... and I'm sure you can already see where I'm going with all this... the Congressional Black Caucus, a major recipient of funding from tobacco companies, exceeding $250,000 in some years, according to one report, split over the decision of whether to push for the inclusion of menthol cigarettes in the legislation, or support big tobacco in its efforts to exclude menthol cigarettes.

Why the internal conflict amongst black members of congress?

Well, as we all probably know, black folks love their menthols! In fact, according to several reports I read, an estimated 75 percent of black smokers choose mentholated brands - a fact that several public health officials have stated could possibly be responsible for the increase in nicotine addiction and cancer rates among black smokers, since there is evidence that some menthol brands, including Newport, contain the highest levels of nicotine of leading cigarettes! And despite all those rather unsettling facts, there are some members of the CBC who would rather not alienate cigarette companies by banning menthols, since this alienation might mean the reduction, or eventual end of financial funding from those same companies.

So, this seemingly no-brainer of an issue (as far as I'm concerned) has apparently polarized members of the CBC. I say "no-brainer," because it's quite obvious to me, and any ethically reasonable person, that mentholated cigarettes SHOULD BE included in the introduced legislation that will ban all flavored cigarettes. The fact that they are fighting over this is baffling!

Their two choices as I see them, are as follows:

1. Yes, menthols fall under the "flavored cigarettes" umbrella and should be abolished as the legislation intends, which would obviously piss off tobacco companies who certainly don't want to lose that 28% (or $20 billion) market, possibly meaning that the Caucus members bite the hands that feed them, even though doing so might actually save the lives of more than a few current and future black men, women, boy and girl smokers;

2. No, menthols should be excluded from the legislation, keeping tobacco companies happy, and ensuring that the $250,000+ annual contributions to the Caucus's bank account continues unabated, while nicotine addictions and cancer rates remain steady, and maybe even increase amongst black men, women, boys and girls.

Ok, so maybe my breakdown is simplifying matters a bit, but not by much!

This is the kind of shit that our democratically appointed reps are being paid to sort out? Come on!



  1. Barry Jenkins said...

    Caught this too, glad you blogged about it.

    Some of the most distinct, vivid memories of my childhood are of journeys to the corner store under Miami Sun, a pack of Benson & Hedges Menthol for an aunt, an uncle, my grandma. A heady time. Some days, I'd make four trips in an hour, back and forth, cigarettes and scratch-offs, maybe a Doctor Pepper. And never, ever did it occur to me that a nine year old boy should not be purchasing cigarettes. Not with such frequency; under the pretenses, so legally?

    I had no clue what the word dysfunctional meant, but...on days when those walks became too hot, too sweaty, I cursed like hell, rocks thrown through crack house windows, had visions of squad cars jumping curbs, me chased for the purchasing and not the cashier for the selling! In every corner store in every hood in America, there's a sign just above the register, a bit of humanitarianism from Phillip Morris and such folks, always stating that cigarettes and other tobacco products are not to be sold to minors. I could read, damnit.

    You do a thing enough, it seeps into you. Perform a task enough, it becomes rote. Wasn't easy to come by money. I'd save nickles and dimes for trips to the candy lady house. A pack of cigarettes wasn't much. Every now and then I'd hand over that brown bag and hear, "Keep the change." Keep that change enough, and it ain't hard at all to step to that register and buy two packs of Bens, one for the bag, one for the pocket.

    What the hell was menthol anyway? Gave me images of rubbing alcohol. Curiosity, repitition and exposure is a hellafied mix.

    Yeah...I got a few words for the CBC!

  2. The Obenson Report said...

    Read almost like a short story Barry :o)

    But, yeah, the CBC certainly made a Faustian bargain.

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