In the past, free cigarettes were available at CBC functions. Rep. Edolphus Towns (Democrat of Brookly) used to carry the moniker of "Marlboro Man" due to the large campaign contributions he would received from the tobacco industry. Minority whip Rep. James Clyburn, of South Carolina, represents a tobacco-growing region of South Carolina; last year, the parent of Philip Morris donated $50,000 to an endowment he established at South Carolina State University, an HBCU in Orangeburg. Over the years, Philip Morris has been one of the biggest contributors to the nonprofit Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, exceeding $250,000 at times.
A bill before Congress gives the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) the power to regulate tobacco products and would attempt to reduce teenage smoking by banning most flavored cigarettes, like clove, mocha, and cinnamon. But menthol cigarettes are exempt from the ban, the ONLY flavor that is exempt from the ban. In an earlier plezWorld post, it is explained that menthol cigarettes are the cigarettes of choice in the Black community, accounting for more than 28% of the $70 billion cigarette market. The tobacco industry supports the ban of all flavored cigarettes, except menthol! Many in Congress feel that by including menthol in the ban will kill the bill, even though, George W. Bush plans to veto it anyway.
Two former federal health secretaries, Joseph A. Califano Jr. and Dr. Louis W. Sullivan, who is African-American, met recently with Rep. Waxman, the House bill's sponsor, to argue against the menthol exemption. Because he said he was unlikely to change his mind, they later sent him a letter saying “the current version of the bill, which gives menthol a protected status, would have the effect of discriminating against the health interests of African-Americans.” The letter was also signed by William S. Robinson, executive director of the National African-American Tobacco Prevention Network.
The CBC's chairwoman, Rep. Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, of Michigan, says its members, all Democrats, are deeply divided on the subject. “The caucus is split,” she said. “We do want to see menthol regulated, but we’re convinced that eliminating or prohibiting menthol would be a killer for the bill.” She said the black caucus was drafting an amendment to the House tobacco regulation bill, possibly to call for a study of menthol.
Will the CBC support the bill even though it allows the marketing of menthol cigarettes? Will the CBC protect one of the few industries that they can count on for cash money during their campaigns? Will the CBC support a bill that discriminates against the health interests of their constituents?
Read the New York Times article about the CBC split over menthol cigarettes here.
Read the plezWorld post about the cigarette bill before Congress here.
plez sez: my thoughts on this matter have not changed - if Congress is going to ban flavored cigarettes in an attempt to curb underage smoking, then it needs to ban ALL flavored cigarettes. by maintaining the exemption for menthol cigarettes, Congress is sending approval to the tobacco industry to continue to ply their trade with the most vulnerable group: underage Blacks!
i've heard the rationale for not supporting the ban, but i've never heard the rationale for not supporting the ban with the menthol exemption.
plezWorld strongly urges the Congressional Black Caucus to support the interests of the Black community by opposing the bill if it contains an exemption for menthol.