Congress has proposed legislation aimed at reducing youth smoking by banning flavored cigarettes such as clove and cinnamon. Menthol, the minty compound that reduces irritation caused by smoking and may be a factor in high cancer rates among African-Americans, is exempt.
Menthol cigarettes makes up more than one-quarter of the American cigarette market, a $70 billion dollar market. Philip Morris’ (Altria’s) (MO) Marlboro Menthol brand is the second-largest menthol cigarette brand and the fastest growing. Apparently, menthol regulation was never even on the table for discussion.
Whatever public relations problems cigarettes have, the political risk of a major legislative blow in the US to the industry still seems small. This excerpt from the NYT pretty much sums up the cigarette companies’ vast influence over Washington:
…Philip Morris USA, without whose lobbying support the legislation might have no chance of passage. “I would have been in favour of banning menthol,” said Senator Judd Gregg, Republican of New Hampshire, who supports the bill. “But as a practical matter that simply wasn’t doable.”
Even the head of the National African American Tobacco Prevention Network, a nonprofit group that has been adamantly against menthol, acknowledges that the ingredient needed to be off the bargaining table — for now — because he does not want to imperil the bill’s chances.