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Congress Set to Ban Flavored Cigarettes - Big Tobacco Shows Clout and Holds Onto Menthol

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posted 06:07 PM EST, Tue May 13, 2008

Tobacco activists are critical of legislation that will ban flavored tobacco - but exempts the biggest selling flavored tobacco product from the ban

Legislation is set to pass through Congress that would put certain tobacco products under the purview of the FDA for the first time; and a part of this proposed bill will grant the FDA the right to ban the sale of flavored cigarettes.

Mocha, clove, cinnamon etc. – flavorings that activists say attract young smokers will be pulled from shelves should the bill pass, as it is expected to do, but the most heavily used flavoring by far, menthol, is off limits for the moment - not included in a bill as a practical measure.

Menthol is a vital chunk of a shrinking American tobacco market, and tobacco companies were not prepared to give up a quarter of sales without a hard and expensive fight. A fight Lawmakers chose to avoid – for now.

Acknowledging the political realities surrounding the bill, Senator Judd Greg of New Hampshire said, “I would have been in favor of banning menthol, but as a practical matter that simply wasn’t doable.”

Menthol is thought to increase the addictive properties of cigarettes, making an already lethal product somewhat more so. African American smokers account for 75% of all menthol sales in America, and show a 50% higher lung cancer incidence in part because of this preference for menthol.

Supporters of the bill say explain that it's better to get something passed now and to revisit the issue of menthol down the road, rather than have an ideal piece of legislation bogged down for years.

Tobacco companies retailed 17 billion dollars worth of menthol cigarettes last year. 17 billion dollars that earns them a lot of congressional clout – even over matters of public health legislation

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