Banning Menthol Cigarettes in the US
In a recent edition of The British Medical Journal a headline caught my eye: ‘US doctors support bid to ban menthol cigarettes.’
We learn that the American Medical Association together with the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council and the UK charity, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH), have brought a lawsuit against the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ‘to add menthol to the list of flavoured tobaccos that are banned from sale.’
The reason for such an action, we are informed, is that ‘removal of menthol cigarettes from the marketplace would benefit public health in the United States.’ This is because, although flavoured cigarettes were banned in 2009, menthol is still allowed.
Now suppose that the lawsuit is decided in favour of the plaintiffs and menthol flavouring in cigarettes is banished forthwith and forevermore. Then the American Medical Association and the rest of them can give themselves a pat on the back—because they will have benefitted public health.
There is only one problem with this wished-for result: non-flavoured cigarettes will remain freely on sale in every corner shop and supermarket in the US. How much benefit to public health is enough? What will be the next step? Or will there even be a next step?
It seems to me that if the American Medical Association and their fellow litigants are serious about benefitting public health they won’t stop there: they will campaign and bring lawsuits against the FDA and any others government bodies involved, to ban not just flavoured tobaccos but all tobaccos.
In any case, if flavoured tobaccos are no longer available, no young person will be tempted to try smoking? Problem solved—or pie in the sky?
When I started smoking as a medical student in the 1960s before the dangers of smoking were realised, I experimented with several types of cigarettes including menthol flavoured ones. To a small extent I found that menthol disguised the unpleasant acrid taste of cigarette smoke, but smoking was just something one did in those days, flavour or no flavour.
The move to ban menthol cigarettes is another example of chipping away at the problem piecemeal. Something is being done, but what difference will it make? Suppose all flavoured cigarettes were banned tomorrow. In theory this might slow the rate of uptake of smoking by young people, because they might find their first experience of unflavoured cigarettes off-putting so that they won’t want to try it again, but what about all the young people who would not be put off?
I have written about this matter before in an attempt to show the pointlessness of banning menthol cigarettes:
What is wrong with the above-quoted headline is the penultimate word. If this were left out it would read, ‘US doctors support bid to ban cigarettes.’ Then we might get somewhere in dealing with the smoking problem.
Text © Gabriel Symonds