A bill currently before the US Congress gives control of tobacco products to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and recommends that flavour additives such as mint, clove and vanilla, which appeal to young people, would be banned, but menthol flavouring would be still be allowed.
The menthol exemption has been challenged by many prominent health figures, including seven former health secretaries who sent a letter to lawmakers voicing opposition to the menthol exemption.
You would think that if they're planning on banning flavours such as clove and peppermint, then why not menthol as well for consistency?
It also gets interesting because the American Medical Association (AMA), the largest physician group in the country, is supporting it on the grounds that challenging it would derail the bill completely. The menthol exemption helped congressional leaders reach a bipartisan compromise on legislation that would put cigarettes under government regulation. Supporters say it would give the FDA authority to reduce harmful ingredients in cigarettes, require new health warnings and bar misleading labels such as "light" and "mild."
Of course, Philip Morris, one of the largest suppliers of menthol flavoured cigarettes is also supporting the exemption. Menthol represents almost 30% of the $70 billion U.S. cigarette market, not exactly chump change.
But here's another rub – menthol is preferred by more than 75% of black smokers, according to government estimates. Fewer than 25% of whites smoke it. Both sides are claiming that supporting or banning the exception would be perceived as discriminatory to African-Americans. This is PC gone mad. Either there is evidence that the flavours (including menthol) are directly harmful/encourage more smoking or there's not.
The approach taken by both sides is fast becoming a political fudge. Sometimes I do wonder about the sanity and common sense of lawmakers and politicians.
Would you vote for menthol being excluded or not?